For someone who earns their bread and butter working in interfaith relations the last seven days has been quite a week. I am very pleased that things have been quiet in Melbourne, and that the many years of hard work that has been put in building a positive relationship between the Catholic and Muslim communities has been paying off.
In particular, the Islamic Council of Victoria has displayed an examplary degree of care about the way in which they have reacted to the current furor over the Pope’s Regensburg lecture. Their spokesman, Waleed Aly, wrote an exemplary piece for The Age. The President of the ICV, Malcolm Thomas, has personally expressed the committment of the ICV to their relationship with the Catholic Church. I must say that such expressions are quite touching.
Our own spokesman, Catholic Interfaith Committee Chairman Rev. Dr John Dupuche, has been busy putting out the flames. He was widely quoted in an article by Barney Zwartz in The Age, and had a letter published also.
I waded through about 30 pages of printout from various sources while sitting on the beach yesterday, and from what I can tell, the world’s press, while generally agreeing that a more PC and diplomatic Pope would not have quoted the passage he did, the reaction from some quarters of the Muslim world has been both hysterical and at the same time irrational–seemingly proving the Pope’s very point.
While one of our Australian prelates has reacted with anger toward this unseemly display, most of the rest of us have reacted with sadness–some sadness directed toward the Pope’s seeming lack of judgement, some toward the reactions that resulted.
But there have been a number of commentators who believe that Papa Benny was not being quite as naive as some would like to make out, and that he really did deliberately choose the statement from Emperor Manuel II Paleologus intentionally. I must say that I tend to agree with this estimation. He did not, and does not, completely share the Emperor’s point of view, nevertheless, he did want this point of view (expressed very often by many Christians) put on the dialogue table. What better way than as a passing remark in an academic address.
Emperor Manuel had good reason to fear the violence of the followers of Muhammad. He had seen his entire kingdom reduced to next to naught by the Ottoman sword. I had to have a real chuckle at the interpretation put on this situation by a letter writer published in the same edition of The Age as Fr John’s letter, on Khatira Anwari of Reservoir. He writes (and I quote):
“The latest comments by Pope Benedict are not only inflammatory but are purely based on historical propaganda generated by some Christian leaders when Islam became rapidly popular as a way of life.“
Well. That’s one interpretation, I guess. Islam was becoming rapidly popular in what had been the Christian Byzantine empire because to choose Islam was to chose survival under the new Islamic regime. But if this is what passes for history today, then, in Chesterton’s words, “The Past isn’t what it was”. And I got that little quote from this week’s “All things Catholic” by John Allen, who has a fairly good roundup of the current controversy over the Regensburg lecture as well as a neat piece on Chesterton and Shaw.
Other good reading on the current controversy:
Father Richard John Neuhaus
The Stephen Crittenden Show (ABC Religion Report) with Fr Fessio and Andrew Robb
Two articles by Sydney Muslim lawyer and writer Irfan Yusuf: “Papal Free Speech” and “If you cant stand the missionary heat, you should get out of Abraham’s spiritual kitchen”.
More from John Allen in the latest “All things Catholic”