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Muslims seek fuller apology

Western leaders defend sincerity of pope's regret

Cardinal Paul Poupard and Sami Salem, imam of Rome’s mosque, attended a meeting in Rome yesterday of Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. The group called for dialogue among the three faiths to ease tension stemming from Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on Islam in a speech last week.
Cardinal Paul Poupard and Sami Salem, imam of Rome’s mosque, attended a meeting in Rome yesterday of Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. The group called for dialogue among the three faiths to ease tension stemming from Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on Islam in a speech last week. (Franco Origlia/ Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI faced a growing chorus of demands yesterday for an unequivocal apology for remarks seen as portraying Islam as a violent faith, despite attempts by Western leaders and church officials to defuse the crisis.

In Washington, President Bush said the pope was sincere when he said he was sorry that his words had been misunderstood, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the pontiff's ``love of humanity."

``We all need to understand that offense can sometimes be taken when perhaps we don't see it," Rice told ABC television.

But for many Muslims, Benedict's attempt to explain himself on Sunday did not go far enough, and observers were waiting to see if he would speak about it again at his general audience at the Vatican today.

The pope enraged Muslims in a speech a week ago in Germany quoting 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said the Prophet Mohammed brought evil, ``such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics said on Sunday he was ``deeply sorry" for the reaction caused and said the words he quoted did not represent his own opinion. But he did not apologize for his remarks or retract them.

In a telegram to the order of an Italian nun killed in Somalia in what some suspect was retaliation for Benedict's comments, the pope expressed hope that her sacrifice would help build ``real fraternity among people with reciprocal respect of everyone's religious convictions."

But the deluge of criticism and threats continued.

Italian media cited a report from Egypt of an Al Qaeda group calling for the German-born pope to be punished by strict Islamic Sharia law for insulting their religion. In Iraq, a group linked to Al Qaeda has vowed war on ``worshipers of the cross."

Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy said at a UN assembly in New York there was no reason for alarm in Italy, though local media has reported increased security around the Vatican.

Workers at Turkey's Directorate General for Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, petitioned for the arrest of the pope when he makes a scheduled visit to Turkey in November.

They held banners saying ``Either apologize or don't come."

The pope's comments annoyed the Turkish government, but there are no plans yet to cancel the trip.

In Iraq, where an effigy of the pope was burned Monday, parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani called his apology ``inadequate and not commensurate with the moral damage caused to Muslims' feelings."

The Grand Mufti of the Palestinian Territories, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, said Benedict must make ``a personal and clear apology to 1.5 billion Muslims in this world for the insult."

But the cleric asked for an end to attacks on churches in the area, after seven were vandalized this weekend.

In Italy, politicians and church officials defended the pope, saying his words were taken out of context and his explanation was clear. At a meeting in Rome hosted by Mayor Walter Veltroni, Italy's Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders called for dialogue among the three faiths to ease tension.

Abdallah Redouane, president of the capital's Islamic cultural center, said Italy's Muslim community had accepted the Pope's apology and considered the episode ``a closed chapter."

Sami Salem, imam of Rome's mosque, said religious leaders all had a right to be ``proud of their faith but they must be obliged to respect other religions."

Cardinal Paul Poupard, the Vatican's culture minister and head of the Holy See's department for inter-religious relations, said all sides must have an ability for ``self-criticism."

While some Muslim clerics say the alleged insults are the latest skirmish in a new Western ``crusade" against Islam, some Catholic clerics say the pontiff's words have been purposefully twisted by militant Muslims.

``We pray for the pope, whose words have been maliciously interpreted," Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe said in Naples.

The head of Australia's 5 million-strong Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell, said violent reaction ``justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears" about Islam.

Local Muslims called Pell's comments ``unhelpful."

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