Pope Benedict XVI "sincerely regrets" that Muslims have been offended by some of his words in a recent speech in Germany, the Vatican said yesterday amid demands for apologies from much of the Islamic world and some reports of violence.
The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that says the Church "regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God."
The pope "thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions," Bertone said in a statement.
"Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervor of Muslim believers, warned secularized Western culture to guard against 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom,"' Bertone said, citing words from another speech that Benedict gave during the German trip.
The cardinal's statement stopped short of any apology for what the pope said.
"In reiterating his respect and esteem for those who profess Islam, he hopes that they will be helped to understand the correct meaning of his words, so that, quickly surmounting this present uneasy moment ... collaboration may intensify" to promote social justice, moral welfare, peace and freedom for all mankind, the cardinal said.
The words, in a speech Benedict gave to university professors on Tuesday during a pilgrimage to his homeland, angered many in the Islamic world and raised doubts over whether a trip to predominantly Muslim Turkey in late November would go ahead as planned.
Leaders across the Muslim world have demanded an apology for the pope's remarks on Islam and jihad, or holy war, despite earlier Vatican assurances that he meant only to emphasize the incompatibility between faith and war.
Benedict had cited an obscure Medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman" -- comments some experts took as a signal that the Vatican was taking a more demanding stance for its dealings with the Muslim world.
When giving the speech, the pope stressed that he was quoting words of a Byzantine emperor and did not comment directly on the "evil and inhuman" assessment.
Bertone, referring yesterday to the emperor's "opinion," said "the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way."
The prelate pointed out that the pope was speaking in an academic setting, to professors, and suggested that a "complete and attentive reading" of the entire speech makes clear that Benedict was reflecting in general on the relationship between religion and violence. Bertone said the pope ended the speech with a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come."
Bertone also cited from other interventions of the pope which the prelate contended makes "unequivocally" clear the pope's work in favor of intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
He noted that during Benedict's earlier pilgrimage to Germany, last year, shortly after being elected pope, the pontiff called for both Christians and Muslims to walk down the "paths of reconciliation and learn to life with respect for each other's identity."