Pope says speech didn't reflect personal opinion

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The Independent Online

Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday he was "deeply sorry" about the angry reaction sparked by his speech about Islam and holy war and said the text did not reflect his personal opinion.

"These (words) were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought," Benedict told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome. He noted that the Vatican secretary of state on Saturday had issued a statement trying to explain his words, which Benedict had delivered Tuesday in a speech during a pilgrimage to his native Germany.

"I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

Speaking about his pilgrimage last week, he said, "at this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims."

At the university, where he had been a theology professor, Benedict, quoting from an obscure Medieval text, cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, as "evil and inhuman."

"While anger over the pope's (Regensburg) remarks is necessary, it shouldn't last long, because while he is the head of the Catholic Church in the world, many Europeans are not following (the church) so what he said won't influence them," Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, told The Associated Press.

Anger and violence — including attacks on seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza — represented the biggest international crisis to rock the Vatican in decades, and the Vatican appeared determined to move quickly to try to defuse anger.

In an unusual step, the Vatican's press office released translations into English and French Sunday of the pope's statement. Usually the Sunday remarks, delivered in Italian, are not translated by the Vatican.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday urged world religious leaders to show "responsibility and restraint" to avoid what he called "extremes" in relations between faiths.

Benedict looked relaxed when he greeted the pilgrims who were standing in pouring rain in the palace courtyard. He smiled and said he hoped it would be better weather on Wednesday for his general audience when he planned to recount more of his pilgrimage to the faithful.

Metal-detecting wands were waved across visitors — heightened Vatican security measures employed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But in a sign of even more security following the furor over the remarks, some pilgrims were patted down by Italian police, and some metal-tipped umbrellas and bottles of liquid were confiscated from faithful waiting to enter the courtyard.

Police sharpshooters kept watch from a city hall balcony on the square and other officers, dressed like tourists, filmed the crowd with video cameras.

Italy's interior minister insisted that the tensions over Benedict's remarks among Muslims wouldn't result in any significant security worries. "I don't believe that for Italy it's a concern that will rise," Giuliano Amato told Italian state radio. Amato noted that suspected terrorist cells, under surveillance in Italy, were considered to have their potential terrorist interest aimed "outside of Italy."

The interior ministry includes state police and civilian intelligence services.

In the West Bank, two churches were set afire early Sunday. In the town of Tulkarem, a 170-year-old stone church was torched and its interior was destroyed, local Christian officials said. In Tubas, a small church was attacked with firebombs and partially burned, Christians said. Neither church is Catholic, the officials said. Muslims hurled firebombs and opened fire at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday.

After the Vatican statement Saturday, senior Indian Muslim clerics asked their supporters to call off planned protests. But Jordanian Muslims said that was not enough and called on the pope to personally apologize for his remarks. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono described the pope's reference at the university as "unwise and inappropriate," the Kompas daily reported.

Anger in Turkey also cast some doubt on whether Benedict would travel there as planned in November in what would be his first trip to a Muslim nation.

But Turkey's foreign minister said Sunday that the pope was still expected to visit.

"From our point of view, there is no change," Abdullah Gul told reporters before departing for a trip to the U.S.

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