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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Whither European Catholicism?

Christians throughout the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus
Christ, European Catholics face an internal battle over the essence of
their faith.

On one side stand high-ranking prelates and professional
theologians, including some in the Vatican. Opposing them is a
prominent convert who seems to know more about their own theology than
they do.

The conflict revolves around the Catholic Church’s response to
Islam. The prelates and professionals favor dialogue to the point of
accommodation, if not collaboration. The convert warns them about the
truth of his former Islamic faith – and about the danger of diluting
foundational Catholic beliefs.

Advent began with several news reports detailing how Catholic prelates are responding to Islam’s growing influence in Europe.

On Nov. 28, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran – president of the Vatican’s
Pontifical Council on Interreligious Affairs – praised Muslims for
injecting religious questions back into debates on public policy.

“Muslims, having become a significant minority in Europe, were the
ones who demand space for God in society,” Tauran wrote in the
Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, citing the controversy over headscarves for women in France as one proof.

On Nov. 29, Monsignor Bernard Nicolas Aubertin, the
Archbishop of Tours, France joined other dignitaries witnessing the
laying of the cornerstone for the city’s new grand mosque. Ironically,
Tours was the place where Charles Martel defeated a Muslim army in 732,
thereby forestalling Islam’s attempts to dominate Europe.

On Dec. 2, the Daily Mail in London reported that the
Catholic bishops of England and Wales asked Catholic schools to open
prayer rooms for Muslim students and to adapt bathroom facilities to
make ritual cleansing before prayer possible.

“The demands go way beyond legal requirements on catering for religious minorities,” wrote the Daily Mail’s Simon Caldwell, who added that the bishops “want to answer critics who say religious schools sow division.”

The bishops’ study, “Catholic Schools, Children of Other Faiths and Community Cohesion,” specifies:

“If practicable, a room (or rooms) might be made available for the
use of pupils and staff from other faiths for prayer. Existing toilet
facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing
which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship. If such
space is not available on a permanent or regular basis, extra efforts
might be made to address such need for major religious festivals.”

On Dec. 4, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi – president of the Pontifical
Council on Culture – said that Muslims should be allowed to have as
many mosques as they need, as long as those mosques concentrate on

“The place of worship must have its own cultural and spiritual
identity, as well as its own religious identity which is a fundamental
element,” Ravasi said. “The mosque carries out a charitable function
which is a special quality so that religion also has a social

Ravasi made his remarks two days after two Moroccan Muslims were
arrested for plotting to destroy Milan’s famed cathedral on Christmas.
The suspects allegedly conspired in a mosque and in an Islamic cultural
center. As a result, Italy’s foreign minister and the anti-immigrant
Northern League demanded an end to further mosque construction.

“If (the mosque) becomes something different, civil society has a
right to intervene,” Ravasi said. “Here we are talking about a western
society that distinguishes between religious and political spheres…The
mosque cannot turn into a center for other means because it loses its

On Dec. 5, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan, supported Ravasi.

“We need places of worship in every neighborhood of the city,”
Tettamanzi said. “People belonging to faiths other than Christianity
need them even more urgently, especially Islam. We also need cultural
initiatives that promote reflection, not provocation that only creates
dead-end debates and sensationalism.”

The rationale for this genteel approach emerged from the Second
Vatican Council, designed to help Catholicism confront modern issues –
such as its relationship to other religions. The council rejected the
church’s previous adversarial attitude toward Islam for a conciliatory
approach emphasizing similar beliefs, as the encyclical, Nostra Aetate, enumerates:

“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one
God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the
Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to
submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham,
with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself,
submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they
revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at
times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the
day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who
have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life
and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

Another encyclical from the council, Lumen Gentium, states
that “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the
Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans,
who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the
one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”

Reinforcing the church’s approach is the Vatican’s geopolitical
agenda. Enzo Pace, sociology professor at the University of Padua and
president of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion,
elaborated on that aspect in his paper, “The Catholic Church and

Because of European Communism’s collapse during Pope John Paul II’s
tenure – and because of his pivotal role in that collapse – “the Church
believes it has acquired an unquestionable authority in Europe,” Pace
wrote. “Consequently, now that the time has come to build political
unity, it considers itself the depositary of a moral message which
could form the solid foundations of the new Europe.

“The Church is aware that it can offer a sort of new civil religion
to the United States of Europe. The search for moral unity…represents
for the Church a reconfirmation of its central role in history and, at
the same time, the opening of a dialogue with other religious cultures
of the Old World.”

Islam represents one of those cultures.

“Islam thus becomes the most important moral interlocutor because
the Church sees it as a well-structured religion which is on the
increase in contemporary Europe,” Pace wrote. “The real object of this
consideration of Islam is the social and cultural integration of Muslim
groups in the new Europe.

“To ensure this integration, the Catholic Church believes it is
necessary to accept the idea of recognizing Islam as a universal
religion, while, at the same time, inviting Islam to accept at least
the basic moral and juridical principles of the European Christian
culture (the rights of man). In the language of the Catholic Church,
what is called ‘a dialogue of values’ is aimed at ‘protecting life and
the promotion of justice and peace.’ ”

Among those principles is religious freedom, which the Vatican calls
“reciprocity” with respect to Islam. If nations with Christian cultures
allow Muslims to worship freely, then Muslim nations must grant the
same liberty to Christians – though Muslim nations have yet to do so.

Magdi Allam begs to dissent from the prevailing attitude. Allam, a deputy editor at Italy’s best-known newspaper, Milan’s Corriere della Sera, converted
to Catholicism from Islam during the Easter Vigil in March – and was
baptized by Pope Benedict XVI himself. As a result, Allam received
death threats from Muslims.

In describing his conversion in detail to the Vatican’s Zenit News Agency, Allam contrasted his new faith with his old:

“…as my mind was freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that
legitimates lies and deception, violent death that leads to murder and
suicide, the blind submission to tyranny, I was able to adhere to the
authentic religion of truth, of life and of freedom. On my first Easter
as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus; I discovered for the first
time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and

“I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon
of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level,
the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically
violent and historically conflictive.”

Allam reemphasized those points before Benedict met with Islamic
scholars in early November. On his own Web site, Allam posted an open
letter to the Pope, warning of “the serious religious and ethical
straying that has infiltrated and spread within the heart of the

Specifically, Allam criticized Tauran’s characterization of violence in Allah’s name as betraying Islam:

“The objective reality, I tell you with all sincerity and animated
by a constructive intent, is exactly the opposite of what Cardinal
Tauran imagines. Islamic extremism and terrorism are the mature fruit
(of) the sayings of the Quran and the thought and action of Mohammed.”

While various European prelates expressed collaborationist sympathies as Advent began, Allam provided a strong counterpoint.

“The very acts of Mohammed, documented by history, and which the
Muslim faithful themselves do not deny, testify to massacres and
exterminations perpetrated by the prophet,” he told Zenit on Dec. 1.
“Therefore, the Quran is incompatible with fundamental human rights and
non-negotiable values.

“There is a greater and more subliminal danger than the terrorism of
‘cut-throats.’ It is the terrorism of the ‘cut-tongues;’ that is, the
fear of affirming and divulging our faith and our civilization, and it
brings us to auto-censorship and to deny our values, putting everything
and the contrary to everything on the same plane: We think of the Sharia applied even in England.”

Yet the forces of accommodation refuse to retreat. Paolo dall’Oglio,
a prominent Italian Jesuit who won the Euro-Mediterranean Award for
Dialogue, criticized Allam in the Jesuit monthly Popoli in an article entitled, “Eclipse of the Sun”:

“The moon of urgent concern for freedom of conscience and religion
has blocked the sun of charitable discretion, of respect for Muslim
feelings, and of the renunciation of proselytism. It has overshadowed
the Copernican Revolution of the Second Vatican Council which also went
in favor of Islam, and the renewal of official dialogue between the
Holy See and important Muslim organizations.

“It discouraged numerous efforts to construct harmony and
friendship, in the quarters of European cities as well as in the
countries, for secular and peaceful Islamic-Christian coexistence. It
neutralized attempts to defuse inter-religious violence and to show how
far the Church is from the neocolonialist logic of the Western
hegemonic powers, and how a great majority of Muslims are opposed to
the logic of hostile confrontation.”

If dall’Oglio is right, then where are the fatwas condemning
Islamist terrorism from the sheikhs and imams of al-Azhar – the most
prestigious center of Muslim learning in the Sunni world? Where are the
Muslims condemning Iran’s stated goal of obliterating a sovereign state
for the Greater Glory of Allah?

Moreover, how has all this dialogue helped Middle Eastern Christians
who experience ever-increasing persecution from Muslims? Did such
dialogue save one life in Mumbai, Madrid, London, Bali, Beslan, New
York, Washington or on the plains of Pennsylvania? Does it do anything
to protect the innocent, let alone promote justice and peace?

As the founder of Christianity might have put it, what does it
profit a church to gain an entire continent yet lose its own soul?

Joseph D’Hippolito is a columnist for Frontpagemag.com, whose main focuses are religion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.