On September 12th 2006, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) landed in Bavaria, Germany, where he was born and first taught theology. He was expected to deliver a lecture in front of the academic community at the University of Regensburg. That lesson would go down to history as the most controversial papal speech of the last half-century.
On this, the 10th anniversary of the speech, the Western world and the Islamic world both owe Benedict an apology, but unfortunately, the opposite happened: the Vatican has apologized to the Muslims.
In his lecture, Pope Benedict clarified the internal contradictions of contemporary Islam, but he also offered a terrain of dialogue with Christianity and Western culture. The Pope spoke of the Jewish, Greek and Christian roots of Europe's faith, explaining why these are different from Islamic monotheism. His talk contained a quote from the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman".
This keg of dynamite was softened by a quotation from a Koranic sura of Mohammed's youth, Benedict noted, "when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat", and which says: "There is no compulsion in religion."
Pope Benedict's talk was not a surprise. "It is no secret that the Pope worried about Islam", Christopher Caldwell noted in the Financial Times.
"He has doubted publicly that it can be accommodated in a pluralistic society. He has demoted one of John Paul II's leading advisers on the Islamic world and tempered his support for a programme of inter-religious dialogue run by Franciscan monks at Assisi. He has embraced the view of Italian moderates and conservatives that the guiding principle of inter-religious dialogue must be reciprocità. That is, he finds it naive to permit the building of a Saudi-funded mosque, Europe's largest, in Rome, while Muslim countries forbid the construction of churches and missions".In Regensburg, Benedict staged the drama of our time and for the first time in the Catholic Church's history -- a Pope talked about Islam without recycling platitudes. In that lecture, the Pope did what in the Islamic world is forbidden: freely discussing faith. He said that God is different from Allah. We never heard that again.
The quotation of Manuel II Palaeologus bounced around the world, shaking the Muslim umma [community], which reacted violently. Even the international press was unanimous in a chorus of condemnation of the "Pope's aggression on Islam."
The reaction to Pope's speech proved that he was right. From Muslim leaders to the New York Times, everybody demanded the Pope's apologies and submission. The mainstream media turned him into an incendiary proponent of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations." In the Palestinian Authority area, Christian churches were burned and Christians targeted. British Islamists called to "kill" the Pope, but Benedict defied them.
At the same time, in Somalia, an Italian nun was shot. In Iraq, a Syrian Orthodox priest was beheaded by al-Qaeda and mutilated after the terrorists demanded that the Catholic Church to apologize for the speech. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood pledged retaliations against the Pope. A Pakistani leader, Shahid Shamsi, accused the Vatican of supporting "the Zionist entity." Salih Kapusuz, number two in the party of the Turkey's then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, compared Pope Benedict XVI to Hitler and Mussolini. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted that the words of the Pope belong to "the chain of US-Israeli conspiracy," and accused Benedict of being part of the "Crusader conspiracy."
Security around Pope Benedict was soon massively increased. Two years later, the Pope had been barred from speaking at Rome's most important university, La Sapienza. After the Regensburg affair, Benedict would have not be the same anymore. Islamists and Western appeasers had been able to close his mouth.
A few days after the lecture, exhausted and frightened, Pope Benedict apologized. I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address ... which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the Pope told pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo summer residence. The quote did not "in any way express my personal thoughts. I hope this serves to appease hearts."
The Pope may have said that to stop further violence. But since then, apologies to the Islamic world have become the official Vatican policy.
"The default positions vis-à-vis militant Islam are now unhappily reminiscent of Vatican diplomacy's default positions vis-à-vis communism during the last 25 years of the Cold War," wrote George Weigel, a US leading scholar. The Vatican's new agenda seeks "to reach political accommodations with Islamic states and foreswear forceful public condemnation of Islamist and jihadist ideology."
Ten years since the Regensburg lecture, relevant as ever after ISIS's attacks on European soil, another Pope, Francis I, has tried in many ways to separate Muslims and violence and always avoided mentioning that forbidden word: Islam. As Sandro Magister, one of Italy's most important journalists on Catholic issues, wrote: "In the face of the offensive of radical Islam, Francis's idea is that 'we must soothe the conflict'. And forget Regensburg."
The entire Vatican's diplomatic body today carefully avoids the words "Islam" and "Muslims," and instead embraces a denial that a clash of civilization exists. Returning from World Youth Day in Poland last August, Pope Francis denied that Islam itself is violent and claimed that the potential for violence lies within every religion, including Catholicism. Previously, Pope Francis said there is "a world war," but denied that Islam has any role in it.
In May, Pope Francis explained that the "idea of conquest" is integral to Islam as a religion, but he quickly added that some might interpret Christianity, the religion of turning the other cheek, in the same way. "Authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence," the Pope claimed in 2013. A year later, Francis declared that "Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence." He claimed that it is the ills of global economy, and not Islam, that inspire terrorism. And a few days ago, the Pope said that "people who call themselves Christians but do not want refugees at their door are hypocrites."
Pope Francis's pontificate has been marked by this moral equivalence between Christianity and Islam, which also obfuscates the crimes of Muslims against their own people, Eastern Christians and the West.
But there are brave cardinals who still speak the truth. One is the US Catholic leader Raymond Burke, who is featured in a recent interview with the Italian media, in which he said:
"It is clear that Muslims have an ultimate goal: conquering the world. Islam, through the sharia, their law, wants to rule the world and allows violence against the infidels, such as Christians. But we find it hard to recognize this reality and to respond by defending the Christian faith (...) I have heard several times an Islamic idea: 'what we failed to do with the weapons in the past we are doing today with the birth rate and immigration'. The population is changing. If this keeps up, in countries like Italy, the majority will be Muslim (...) Islam realizes itself in the conquest. And what is the most important achievement? Rome."Unfortunately, Rome's first bishop, Pope Francis, seems deaf and blind to these important truths. It took five days for Benedict XVI to apologize for his brave lecture. But he opened a decade-long season of the Vatican's excuses for Islamic terrorism.
Pope Francis is still awaited for a visit at the church of St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where Father Jacques Hamel was murdered by Islamists this summer. That killing, ten years after the Regensburg lecture, is the most tragic proof that Benedict was right and Francis wrong.