The near-irreparable breach
Two stories made the headlines a few hours ago. ABC News says "Pope Sorry for Reaction to His Remarks" and from Reuters, "Italian nun slain in Somalia, speculation of Pope link". Before anyone gets too excited about either story, here are the lead paragraphs from the ABC News story.
Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" about the angry reaction to his recent remarks about Islam, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion. "These (words) were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought," Benedict told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome.
The pope sparked the controversy when, in a speech to German university professors Tuesday, he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, as "evil and inhuman." "At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the pope said Sunday.
The Pope is sorry for the reaction to his remarks. He did not apologize for the remarks themselves, in which he argued that forced conversions were contrary to reason, and hence, to the Christian concept of God, though that distinction is hardly emphasized by ABC News. One of the reactions that Pope Benedict is probably sorry to hear about is the murder of an old Italian nun in Mogadishu. Here's the Reuters account.
Gunmen shot and killed an Italian nun at a children's hospital in Mogadishu on Sunday in an attack that drew immediate speculation of links to Muslim anger over the Pope's recent remarks on Islam. The Catholic nun's bodyguard also died in the latest attack apparently aimed at foreign personnel in volatile Somalia.
The assassinations were a blow to Mogadishu's new Islamist rulers' attempt to prove they have pacified one of the world's most lawless cities since chasing out warlords in June. The bodyguard died instantly, but the nun was rushed into an operating theatre at the hospital after the shooting.
"After serious injuries, she died in the hospital treatment room," doctor Ali Mohamed Hassan told Reuters. "She was shot three times in the back."
Neither the Pope nor the Italian sister would probably care to start an argument with Islam, despite everything that's happened. After all the Pope had just made a point about the inadmissibility of violence in resolving matters of faith. And the Italian nun died in the line of a duty fully understanding that being killed was an occupational hazard in certain Islamic countries. Whatever the Islamic world may think, there is very little prospect of the Catholic Church calling for another Crusade. It's a simple fact that most Christians won't do that, as Christians.
But it would be untrue to say the recent controversy over the Islamic world's reaction to the Pope's remarks have no effect. Just as the public will probably read the Pope's sorrow for the reaction to his remarks as being sorry for his remarks -- that is, as an apology-- much of the simple public will probably regard the apology as as the product of a bullying Islamic world as abetted by the liberal establishment, of which the nun's recent death is an example. And while such sentiments are unlikely to manifest themselves in any large shift in the political proportions of Western countries, it will have the effect of hardening the attitudes of those who suspect they are being sold down the river by the liberals and the left. Not by any great measure, but by some small increment. Added on to the context of train bombings, airline scares and the ceaseless belligerence of militant Islamic preachers in the West, it will make unctuous remarks at how carelessly and insensitively the Pope has treated Islam just that much more nauseating. The New York Times for example says "Because the world listens carefully to the words of any pope, Benedict XVI needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology for his hurtful speech." The NYT may be playing to an audience, but not since the phrase "let them eat cake" has there been such an unwitting example of contempt for those outside the charmed circle. We have learned less from Pope Benedict's words then we have discovered from the reaction to them.