Sep 27, 2006 1:53 am


Did the Pope apologize? In an unprecedented manner, say some. Not really, say others.

Did he throw down the gauntlet demanding reciprocal relations with Islam? No, say some. He just miss-spoke. He needs to be vetted. Yes, say others. This is part of a pattern. He knows very well what he is doing.

It all sounds to me like an in house battle between the new Pope and the Vatican bureaucracy and it's too early to tell who will win.

Is it important? You bet. After all, John Paul II was Ronald Reagan's active partner in bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. Those who compare Bush and Blair to the Twin Towers, celebrate the upcoming departure of Blair from the scene. Leaving Bush standing alone is the second best for getting rid of him. Having Pope Benedict take his place as the second tower really rankles them. It also rankles Vatican old timers unhappy with his new appointments. As usual, the last paragraph in a NYT article is the one most reading:

At a time when the Vatican has just replaced its second-in-command and its foreign minister, many experts also said that did not have enough experts on Islam to gauge reaction to any papal statements.

“They have nobody to really ask,” said the Rev. Thomas Michel, secretary for inter-religious dialogue for the Jesuit order of priests. “Whoever looked at it and let that go through is someone who doesn’t understand Muslims at all.”

In February, Benedict reassigned the Vatican’s most senior Arabist, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, then the head of inter-religious dialogue, to Cairo as the Vatican envoy there. The move was seen at the time by some church experts as a sign of Benedict’s skepticism about the value of dialogue with Muslims.

“I think one may say, if it is not too impolite, that it is time to bring back Monsignor Fitzgerald,” said Mr. Melloni, the Vatican scholar.

I am sure Pope Benedict chose his words carefully fully aware of their impact. I suspect he meant to remind those who constantly refer to Christians as crusaders that Jihad was far from an innocent undertaking. If Jihad's reinterpretation should be accepted at face value, so should the benign modern usage of crusade. I also believe that the forced conversion of the two Fox reporters prayed on his mind as it did on the mind of many who take their religion seriously.

But he tripped when he failed to distance himself the Byzantine emperor's patently false claim that nothing new but only things"evil and inhuman" came from Islam. This does not mean that he is sure to lose but the road will be even tougher. One thing is clear, there is a battle royal raging in Rome.

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