1. I have not made any public comment on the Pope's lecture on Faith and Reason at the University of Regensburg, except to my own Clergy and Religious. I have read the Pope's lecture twice—very closely. I have analyzed its tone, its premise, its main issue, the way it is developed, its conclusions. It is closely reasoned. It was given to scholars in an academic setting.
2. As a former academic, frankly I am completely shocked and bewildered by the vehement reaction to the Pope's lecture from various quarters of the Muslim world. TV has shown effigies of Benedict XVI being burned as an enemy of Islam. Churches in several countries have been attacked. The murder of a religious Sister in Somalia has been speculated on as a possible retaliation. I even surmised that the violent reactions could unfortunately confirm the wrong belief of many non-Islam people that Islam may, indeed, be a religion of violence. If this were so, it would be a great pity.
3. But most certainly Pope Benedict XVI is definitely not anti-Muslim. This I declare unequivocally from personal knowledge. I have talked with him several times when he was yet a Cardinal. I have referred issues of inter-religious dialogue to him. He was the closest and most trusted theological adviser of Pope John Paul II. I personally know that he shared the vision of the late Pope John Paul II with regard to inter-religious dialogue.
4. I know that he has the greatest respect for peoples of different religions, particularly of Islam. Together with the Pontifical Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue, he collaborated with the late Pope on the many significant papal documents and events that had significantly promoted respectful dialogue with Islam. He thought that dialogue with the great religious traditions had a lot to do with the deeply rooted cultural traditions of various peoples.
5. That is why I was not surprised when he placed the Pontifical Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue under the Vatican office on Culture - a move that was misinterpreted by some critics as a down grading of the process of dialogue. I am sure that he thought of the move as enriching the process and emphasizing the role of culture in inter-religious dialogue. One can see his emphasis on cultural religious values on his insistence that Europe recognize this in its Constitution. One can likewise see this point clearly in his lecture at the University of Regensburg.
6. Further, he continues to regard the continuing war in Iraq with great disapproval. In his own academic style he severely and negatively judged the anti-Islam cartoons in Denmark. In doctrine and in practice, he certainly holds great respect for Islam and its believers. With his great predecessor, Pope John Paul II, he holds in common the conviction that violence is not to be justified in the name of religion, Christian or otherwise. The tragic blunders of religious belief in this regard have littered history with thousands of corpses.
6. The one fault the Pope could have had at the University of Regensburg is his "political" simplicity. Some might call it "naiveté." Certainly I see him as a simple person without any worldly political sophistication, a scholar "without guile". Perhaps he believed that everyone would understand his use of a medieval text in its proper context -- as a simple starting point for a wide-ranging scholarly discussion on the need for the West to restore faith and religious values into its secular mentality. Such restoration has to be done, he says, if the West were to successfully enter into dialogue with the great cultural religious traditions of peoples. Here I suppose he would include such traditions as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.
7. We now know, of course, from his message of September 16, that was covered live by Al-Jazeera that he does not endorse the medieval text. In fact, we are told that the German word that he used in his lecture to describe the statement of the Byzantine Emperor really means "crude."
8. I pray that things will settle down quickly with the apology so humbly expressed by this simple yet learned religious leader.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, DD
September 20, 2006