• "They are driving us out of the Middle East," declared Pope Francis on returning from Turkey.

  • "[I]t would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, whether they are political, religious or academic leaders, would speak out clearly and condemn this because this would help the majority of Muslim people." — Pope Francis, counseling Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

  • While this welcoming stance is in keeping with the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith, the Pope as the "Good Shepherd" has an obligation to protect his flock from the militants among the refugees.

  • Within the Catholic Church, there also exists a sub-dominant counter-melody that warns about Islamic hostility to the values of Judeo-Christian civilization.

  • Cardinal Sarah targets what he refers to as "Islam's pseudo-family values which legitimize polygamy, female subservience, sexual slavery, and child marriage."

  • At some point, the Catholic Church might raise the issue of persecution of Christian minorities in Muslim-majority countries at international fora such as the United Nations. The Church also could publicly ask Muslims of good will to express their solidarity with the persecuted and request international organizations to intervene to protect Christians.

  • Given the centuries of hostility between Christendom and dar-al-Islam (the World of Islam), the Vatican's caution may be understandable, but is ill-advised and no longer tenable.

Perhaps, in the light of the harm dhimmitude can do to both civic life and faith, the Catholic Church might re-assess its stance toward Islam from one of friendly engagement to cautionary disengagement. As radical jihadists continue to martyr Christians throughout the world, such a re-evaluation of Islam by the Vatican seems appropriate.

These hate crimes against Christians are occurring against a backdrop of fifteen centuries of hostile, relations between Christianity and Islam -- from the Islamic takeover of Persia, the great Christian Byzantine Empire in Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Greece and Southern Spain.

As Catholics comprise more than half of the globe's two billion Christians, a sober reassessment of Islam by Rome could be of great import and attract more people to Christianity when, as with Brexit, they see that the Church is aligned with a reality they see every day with their eyes.

A decision by the Vatican to distance itself from trying to please Muslims, many of whom would presumably only be pleased by converting Christians to Islam, might even evolve into a more realistic understanding of the Islamic faith by the Catholic hierarchy. If the Church, on the other hand, is hoping to convert Muslims to Christianity, then we have two proselytizing religions, each trying to convert the other, but by different means.

At some point, the Catholic Church might raise the issue of persecution of Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries at international fora such as the United Nations. The Church also could publicly ask Muslims of good will to express their solidarity with the persecuted and request international organizations to intervene to protect Christians.

For the moment, however, Pope Francis is maintaining his diplomatic and tolerant stance toward the Islamic world. In July 2016, for example, on the papal plane returning from a trip to Poland, the pontiff told reporters accompanying him back to Rome that he equated the violence of some Catholics in Italy who kill their wives or mothers-in-law as being akin to the violence exhibited by some Muslims. He said that most religions have small fundamentalist groups, and implied that the root cause of violence among Muslims is poverty: "Terrorism grows when there are no other options and when the center of the global economy is the god of money and not the person."

After this 2016 pastoral visit to Poland, he said, "I don't like to talk about Muslim violence. I must speak of Catholic violence if I speak of Islamic violence."

However, on returning from an earlier journey to Turkey at the end of November 2014, where he had met the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, Pope Francis condemned the violence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). "They are driving us out of the Middle East," he said. During this visit to Turkey, the pope counseled Turkish President Erdogan, "it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, whether they are political, religious or academic leaders, would speak out clearly and condemn this because this would help the majority of Muslim people." The Pope's tone on this trip may have reflected concerns over the ISIS offensive, then underway against Iraqi Kurdistan, a region that his staff discouraged him from visiting because of security concerns.

The language coming closest to stating official Vatican policy toward Islam can be found in the November 24, 2013 Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelli Gaudium," (The Joy of the Gospel). In paragraph 252, the Pope writes:

"We must never forget that they (the Muslims) profess they hold the faith of Abraham and together with us they adore the one, merciful, God who will judge humanity on the last day."[1]

In the document's very next paragraph 253, Francis entreats Muslims to grant Christians who live in Islamic countries, the same freedom of worship that practitioners of Islam enjoy in Western countries.[2] However, this request is immediately followed by a statement which encourages a conciliatory, even unrealistic approach to Christian-Muslim relations:

"Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should cause us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran, are opposed to every form of violence."[3]

Perhaps the pontiff thinks that these ingratiating statements will ultimately lead to a reciprocal Islamic initiative to reach out to Christian leaders. Maybe he believes that by soft-pedaling the problem of anti-Christian hatred fostered by jihadists, peace-loving Muslims will then ultimately assert themselves. Perhaps he hopes that these "good Muslims" will then pressure extremists to moderate their views. Nonetheless, Francis remains, for the moment, apparently aligned with those political leaders in the West, most of whom refuse to call out what everyone sees done every day in the name of Islam.

Vatican institutions also reflect the Holy Father's conciliatory approach to Islam. Holy See officials and media outlets focus on the need for Christians to embrace as brothers and sisters the tide of migrant refugees from the Muslim Near-East and North Africa. While this welcoming stance is in keeping with the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith, the Pope as the "Good Shepherd" has an obligation to protect his flock from the militants among the refugees. The large majority of the migrants are male, young, and unaccompanied. This imbalance is most likely a factor in the many examples of aggression across Europe by some refugees, as well a disturbing pattern of sexual outrages against non-Muslim females on the continent.

Pope Francis washes and kisses the feet of a group of refugees in Rome, in March 2016. (Image source: CatholicTV Network video screenshot)

Within the Catholic Church, there also exists a sub-dominant counter melody that warns about Islamic hostility to the values of Judeo-Christian civilization. For instance, the Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is Vatican Prefect for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, compares Islamic fundamentalism to Nazi-Fascism and Communism. He depicts the West's idolatry of atheistic secularism and the religious fanaticism of Islam as "twin apocalyptic beasts." Cardinal Sarah targets what he refers to as "Islam's pseudo-family values which legitimize polygamy, female subservience, sexual slavery, and child marriage." He is unequivocal about the limits of Christianity's relations with Islam. "With Islam there can be no theological dialogue because the essential foundations of the Christian faith are very different from those of the Muslims," he writes.[4] He bemoans the "very difficult, almost impossible relations with Muslims in the Sudan, Kenya, and Nigeria."[5]

While he praises Islamic-Christian relations in West Africa, Cardinal Sarah has little hope for Christianity's survivability in the Middle East. He closely identifies with the Syriac Catholic Bishop of Mosul, Iraq Basil Casmoussa, who describes the Iraqi Muslims' view of their Christian neighbors as "being troops hired or led by the West and thus considered as a parasitical body in the nation."[6]

While Cardinal Sarah may be the most outspoken of Africa's Cardinals about Islam, he is not alone. Some of the Catholic hierarchy in Africa are exposed on a daily basis to aggressive Islamic behavior in their home countries. Certainly, this is evident in religiously-divided states like Nigeria.

American Cardinal Raymond Burke is another prominent cleric who has urged a more sober approach to Islam. Burke bluntly lays out the concerns of a growing chorus of Christians: "I don't believe we (Muslims and Christians) worship the same God, because the god of Islam is a governor," he succinctly states. "Islam is Sharia and that law which comes from Allah, must dominate every man eventually," Burke adds -- and that "this law (Sharia) is not founded on love." Burke, criticizing Islam, claims that "the essential drive in Islam is to govern and control the world."

Another Church leader, the Archbishop of Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, was even more blunt during a memorial Mass for Jacques Hamel, a Catholic priest knifed to death by ISIS militants on July 26, 2016 in a suburb of Rouen, France:

"Those who want to announce to us a god of death (Allah), a Moloch that would rejoice at the death of a man and promise paradise to those who kill while invoking him, these could not expect humanity to yield to their delusion."

Some prominent Catholic journalists, such as Sandro Magister and the Jesuit Islamologist, Father Khalil Samir, challenge the conciliatory language that Rome employs in its public dialogue with Islam. Magister and Father Samir underscore the central differences between the inaccessibility of Allah and the intimate Christian God of love. Samir also contrasts the all-will and all-power, one-dimensional concept of Islam's deity with the Trinitarian unity of Christianity's Godhead of "Lover-Beloved-Love."[7]

Ultimately, if the Vatican wants to protect its faithful from being subjected to the persecution so pervasively experienced by Christians, especially, in Muslim-majority countries, Church institutions might start publicly evaluating Islam by the actions of its professed believers. A critical mass of skeptics within the Vatican's Curia, College of Cardinals or among the Church's Bishops may ultimately decide openly to challenge the current posture of the Holy See regarding Islam.

Catholic theologians have a duty not to be naive. Why does Islam, which was spread by force, seem to be maintained by force? Why does the Koran elevate jihadi violence to high virtue? Why is the Koran so replete with verses filled with hatred? Why do Muslims denigrate democracy? Why doesn't the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights satisfy the demands of Islamic law (sharia)? Why does Islam oppose freedom of conscience -- the right of man and woman to worship as they please?

The mere raising of these questions will invite a torrent of hostile commentary and accusations of Islamophobia.

Given the centuries of hostility between Christendom and dar-al-Islam (the World of Islam), the Vatican's caution may be understandable, but is ill-advised and no longer tenable.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.


[1] Evangelii Gaudium/The Joy of the Gospel, Chapter Four: "The Social Dimension of Evangelization" Section IV: "Social Dialogue as a Contribution to Peace" "Interreligious Dialogue" Paragraph 252.

[2] Ibid. Paragraph 253.

[3] Ibid. Paragraph 253.

[4] "God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith" by Robert Cardinal Sarah Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2015, P.137.

[5] Ibid. p 137.

[6] Ibid. p.138.

[7] The Catholic explanation of the Trinity, like all we contemplate about God is insufficient from a creature's perspective. However, the most eloquent description and perhaps the explanation which approaches a true description of the Godhead is that of St. Augustine of Hippo (North Africa), who offers the analogy of Lover-Beloved-Love to the Father-Son-Holy Spirit. "On the Trinity" by St. Augustine.

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