Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 13, 2006
Predictions are Benedict will take a hawkish approach to Islam
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"The defence of religious freedom . . . is a permanent imperative and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization,"
- Pope Benedict
The big issue is that of reciprocity on religious freedom. Allen said that Saudi Arabia financed the building of the largest mosque in Europe in the shadow of the Vatican, yet Saudi Arabia allows no churches at all. It doesn't even allow Bibles.
The one million Catholics on the Arabian Peninsula risk arrest by the religious police if they worship even privately off the foreigner compounds, he said.
One major signal of Benedict's shift in approach came during a meeting with Muslim leaders in Cologne during World Youth Day in August, Allen said.
In remarks described as "blunt" by Associate Press, the pope denounced violence and urged Muslims to join Christians in halting the spread of "cruel fanaticism."
"The defence of religious freedom . . . is a permanent imperative and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization," the pope said.
Allen said in effect, the pope told the Muslim leaders in Cologne "Any culture not protecting religious minorities is not worthy of being called civilized."
Another signal of the pope's shift is his recent removal in mid-February of the Vatican's chief expert on Islam. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, chief architect of the dovish approach, has been sent to Cairo as the papal nuncio.
Allen said the last 26 years under John Paul II established a dialogue and built a relationship with Muslims, but Benedict XVI's attitude is now we know each other well enough to "tell the truth to each other.
That means a more aggressive, outspoken approach, Allen said.
One major concern for Rome is the "very real danger Arab Christianity will disappear," he said. There are now more Palestinian Christians in Australia than in Palestine. Christians have been leaving in droves because of economic stagnation, persecution and terrorism.
Not only is the symbolism of seeing the land of Christ emptied of Christians troublesome to the Vatican, Arab Christianity represents one of the best possible bridges to communication with the Muslim world in the Middle East, he said.
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