VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Thursday distanced itself from an Egyptian-born journalist and vocal critic of Islamic extremism who was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI at the weekend.
“Welcoming a new believer into the Church obviously does not mean espousing all of his ideas and positions, in particular on political or social themes,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
Magdi Allam, an editorial writer and deputy editor at Italy’s leading daily, the Corriere della Sera, was one of seven adults baptized as Roman Catholics by the pope during Saturday’s Easter vigil mass at St Peter’s Basilica.
Lombardi said Allam “has the right to express his ideas, which remain personal ideas, without of course becoming in any way the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See.”
He added that the pope had “taken the risk of this baptism (to) affirm the freedom of religious choice flowing from the dignity of the human person.”
Allam’s baptism drew scathing criticism from Muslim scholars led by Aref Ali Nayed, director the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, who called it “a deliberate and provocative act.”
Nayed, among the signatories of an October letter from Muslim scholars to Christian leaders urging peace and dialogue, added: “It is sad that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points.”
Allam’s baptism “also comes at a most unfortunate time when sincere Muslims and Catholics are working very hard to mend ruptures between the two communities,” Nayed wrote in the letter dated Monday.
“It is now important for the Vatican to distance itself from Allam’s discourse,” added Nayed, who was part of a Muslim delegation to the Vatican on March 5 to pave the way for a meeting with the pope in November.
Nayed said: “It is not far fetched to see this as another way of reasserting the message of Regensburg — which the Vatican keeps insisting was not intended.”
The letter from Muslim scholars to Christian leaders was published a year after a speech by Benedict at Regensburg University in Germany unleashed a firestorm of protest in the Muslim world because he appeared to link Islam and violence.
The day after his baptism, Allam branded his former faith as intrinsically violent in a long letter published by Corriere.
“Beyond … the phenomenon of extremists and Islamist terrorism at the global level, the root of evil is inherent to a physiologically violent and historically conflictual Islam,” he wrote.
Nayed wrote of Allam’s letter that its “basic message … is the very message of the Byzantine emperor quoted by the pope in his infamous Regensburg lecture.”