Et tu, Benedicte?

So Benedict XVI didn’t intend to offend Muslims. But he did! Any pope must realize that outside the realm of ecclesiastical dogma, his pronouncements, whether casual or formal, are always taken by people around the world, other than Catholic theologians, as if made ex cathedra. Sermons, lectures or just casual addresses by the pontiff log in for all to see where the Church stands on political, social and economic issues… not just religion. And no, they don’t have to come in the form of an encyclical.

So Benedict XVI is very upset that the Muslims feel offended by what he said. He shouldn’t be! Being upset, regardless of quality or quantity of distress, is certainly no substitute for being sad, sorry or contrite. In fact, at its worst, it suggests a lack of humility. And one thing expected from the Vicar of Christ is humility.

Here in the United States we are becoming accustomed to having fundamentalist Christian leaders indulge in their poisonous tirades, not just against Islam and other religions, but against their own Christian brethren who fail to adhere to their views. We have seen Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son), Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and their many televangelist clones stir up the caldron of understanding and diplomacy with their anti-Islam remarks: an embarrassment, at the very least, to their professed creed.

Et tu, Benedicte? Are you, like your short-sighted Evangelical brothers, letting Western Civilization down? Whether you like it or not, for better or for worse, you are a key representative of Western Civilization, its culture and its values, not just for your flock but for all of us born into this Western society, whether faithful, heretics or heathen. Are you, Benedict XVI, also letting us down?

Quoting Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos, on his references to Muhammad and the issue of holy war, was totally out of place, out of time and, most importantly, out of context with the spirit of love and reconciliation that is expected to be the basis of true Christianity. Quoting a 14th century criticism of Islam can be as insensitive and damaging as pronouncing a 21st century criticism of Islam. Doing so at Regensburg University is even more significant, given the special relationship which has existed for almost four decades (Communio).

Bringing forth that quote was definitely out of step with his own writings (Dominus lesus – 2000) after he, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had explained the position of the Catholic Church on other religions, and showed the proper way to engage in ecumenical dialogue. Changing his red biretta for a papal tiara should not have affected the thinking “below.” And reenacting what was said by Palaiologos – who had meddled in Ottoman affairs against Murad II – was a faux pas of considerable magnitude.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope last year, he said: “I wish to speak why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall Saint Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe.”

Commendable reasons for choosing the name, Benedictus XVI. Placing the Pope’s ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony at a time when the Middle East is ablaze – in great part due to the “crusading” efforts of major powers in the West – will be extraordinary if it does happen. Unfortunately, this incident in Bavaria doesn’t seem to follow that line. Nor does the papacy’s restrained criticism on why peace is not being sought more earnestly for places like Palestine and Iraq. But perhaps, that would be asking too much in a world where arrogant men of evil hold devastating temporal power.

But what may not be asking too much, Pope Benedict, is for you to follow the rule of St. Benedict of Nursia which in essence, as you know, proclaims “that no one should follow what he considers to be good for self, but rather what seems good to another.” And that entails both love of neighbor and humility.

Don’t be upset because Muslims are offended… for you gave them a reason to so be. Do something about it and apologize… wholeheartedly! Show that all men are fallible; even if the Roman Catholic Church has determined you to be infallible on issues where you speak ex cathedra. Humility starts there.