Pope's apology fails to placate Muslims as violence goes on

Pope Benedict XVI has used his first public appearance since returning to Italy from Germany to try to defuse the crisis that has overtaken him since he quoted a Byzantine emperor who described Islam as "evil and inhuman".

Speaking to pilgrims from the balcony of his summer residence at Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, at midday yesterday, he said he was "deeply sorry for the reactions to a brief passage considered offensive to the feelings of Muslim believers".

He went on: "These were, in fact, a quotation from a medieval text which does not in any way express my personal thought. I hope this is sufficient to placate the spirits and to clarify the true meaning of my address which in its totality was and is an invitation to a frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect."

But while the Pope was speaking, hundreds of miles south of Rome, in Mogadishu, at least two men shot a 70-year-old Italian nun four times in the back at a school where she worked. The nun, Sister Leonella, died in hospital. A senior Islamic souce in Somalia cited by Reuters said there was "a high level of possibility" that the murder was linked to the speech. A suspect was arrested.

The Pope's spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, described Sister's Leonella's killing as "a horrible espisode ... Let's hope it will be an isolated fact."

But it was not certain if the Pope's words would be enough to defuse a crisis that was beginning to look ominously like the one into which Islam's relations with the West were plunged by the Danish cartoon affair last year.

In Turkey, the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, said the Pope's planned visit to the country in November was still on. "From our point of view, there is no change," he said. But another minister, Mehmet Aydin, pointed out that, in his statement of regret, the Pope seemed to be saying he was sorry for the reaction to his remarks but not for the remarks themselves. "You either have to say this 'I'm sorry' in a proper way, or not say it at all," he said. "Are you sorry for saying such a thing, or because of its consequences?"

The Pope seems to have been oblivious to the possibility that the quotation from the 14th century emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, buried deep inside a learned address to scholars at Germany's University of Regensburg, could have angered pious Muslims. But given the phrase "evil and inhuman" and his failure to distance himself from it, that shows a lack of sensitivity in a figure whose words go around the world in minutes.

And yesterday the surge of violence continued. Two churches in the West Bank were set on fire, following five incidents in the West Bank and Gaza on Saturday, when five churches were firebombed and fired at.

In some quarters, there were signs the Pope's remarks in Castelgandolfo were enough to draw a line under the affair. The second most senior leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said he accepted the clarification.

But, elsewhere, firebrand Islamic preachers continued to milk the crisis for all it was worth. In the holy city of Qom, in Iran, a hardline cleric, Ahmad Khatami, told hundreds of demonstrators that the Pope and President Bush were "united in order to repeat the Crusades".

"If the Pope does not apologise, Muslims' anger will continue until he becomes remorseful," he went on. "He should go to clerics and sit and learn about Islam."

Protests were also reported in India and Turkey.

This crisis was sparked by the Pope's carelessness, while the cartoon affair was a product of mischief-making. They have one thing in common: both started by depicting Islam as violent. The cartoon that caused most offence showed the prophet with a turban as a tank. The Pope's quotation referred to the Prophet's "command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached". Such references to Islam's alleged propensity for violence cause some Islamic leaders and followers to become livid; in fact, they become so angry at the slur they go out and shoot aged nuns in the back. This is a paradox that Benedict's "frank and sincere dialogue" will need to grapple with, if it is to get off the ground. But it will be a brave man who who broaches the subject.

What he said

* " ... 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," he told pilgrims at his summer residence of Castelgandolfo. "These, in fact, were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," the Pope said at his weekly Angelus prayer. "I hope 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 mutual respect."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)