Diocese cancels talk by critic of Islam

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester rescinded an invitation Wednesday to Robert Spencer, a Catholic whose work depicts Islam as an inherently violent religion, to speak at its annual Catholic Men’s Conference in March.

The invitation was withdrawn after Muslims in Massachusetts expressed concerns to the diocese about the appearance of Spencer, scheduled to be a featured speaker at the DCU Center on March 16.

Spencer is director of the blog Jihad Watch and a leader of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, both of which are seen as anti-Muslim groups by some organizations that monitor extremism.

His books include “Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs,” “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion,” and “Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics.” On his blog, he has argued that jihad is a central tenet of the faith.

After the Globe sought comment on his scheduled appearance from the diocese and from Muslim organizations Wednesday, the Islamic Council of New England sent an e-mail urging Catholic leaders to cancel Spencer’s appearance. The diocese agreed to do so shortly after receiving the e-mail.

“Although the intention of the conference organizers was to have a presenter on Islam from a Catholic’s perspective, we are asking Robert Spencer to not come to the Worcester Catholic Men’s Conference, given that his presence is being seen as harmful to Catholic–Islamic relations both locally and nationally,” Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said in a statement issued to the Globe.

The conference is a religious and social gathering for Catholic men, as well as their male friends and relatives, that typically includes talks from prominent Catholic men, a Mass said by the bishop, and the opportunity to attend confession.

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