Vatican: Convert Who Slammed Islam Doesn’t Express Pope’s Views

VATICAN CITY: The convert from Islam who denounced what he called “inherent” violence in Islam a day after Pope Benedict XVI baptized him was not expressing the pope’s views, a Vatican spokesman said Thursday.

Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-born deputy editor of Corriere della Sera newspaper and frequent commentator on Islamic terrorism, “has the right to express his own ideas, which remain his personal ideas, without obviously becoming in any way the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman.

Benedict baptized Allam, 55, in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday night during an Easter vigil ceremony televised worldwide.

Lombardi told Vatican Radio that “to welcome into the church a new believer obviously does not signify marrying all his ideas and views, particularly on political or social subjects.”

Allam sparked anger in the Muslim world when he wrote in Corriere della Sera a day after his baptism that Islam is “physiologically violent and historically conflictual.”

Among those criticizing the Vatican for allowing Allam to convert in such a high-profile way was a Muslim scholar, Aref Ali Nayed, who participated in recent Vatican talks to improve Catholic-Muslim relations.

Nayed, who directs the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, Jordan, denounced what he called “the Vatican’s deliberate and provocative act.”

Nayed also expressed dismay that the baptism was held while “sincere Muslims and Catholics are working very hard to mend ruptures.”

Earlier this month, Nayed participated in two days of talks at the Vatican to prepare for an audience in November between the pontiff and Muslim religious leaders and scholars.

Lombardi said the Vatican holds Nayed in “very high esteem” and expressed satisfaction that he still was wants to pursue dialogue.

The Vatican wants to mend relations with moderate Islam and has placed importance on the upcoming audience with representatives of 138 Muslim scholars who wrote to the pope last year calling for greater Muslim-Christian dialogue.

That dialogue “is of extreme importance, and shouldn’t be interrupted,” Lombardi said. “It takes priority over episodes that can be the object of misunderstanding.”

A speech by the pope in 2006 citing a medieval emperor’s words about Islam and violence angered many in the Muslim world. Benedict later expressed regret that the speech had caused anger.

Allam has built his career as commentator and book author on attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.

On Tuesday, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano described his baptism as a papal “gesture” aimed at stressing religious freedom and harboring “no hostile intentions” toward Islam.