Joseph D’Hippolito’s excellent piece on Benedict

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about our new Pope, and wondering at his diplomatic skills, which seem non-existant to some, but which are impressing me as being very subtle, but honed.

It is true of popes, presidents and parents: each find themselves needing to respond to every age as their gifts best allow. John Paul the Great was a gatherer, the shepherd pulling in the flock, getting them all rounded up, in all of their various stages of growth, health and hardiness. Perhaps Benedict will be the shepherd who, finding the herd gathered together, will begin the process of vetting the sheep who are in need of intervention but still quite save-able, from the sheep who are perhaps so fully infected that they pose a health-risk to the rest of the herd. It will be interesting to watch.

That said, I like this piece a lot – Joseph’s analysis of where Benedict XVI’s head is with regards to Islam.

Pope Benedict XVI’s installation mass included two indications of a radical change in the Vatican’s strategy toward Islam and Islamist terrorism. In his greeting the new pope welcomed fellow Catholics, other Christians and Jews – but not Muslims.

Later, two selected people delivered intercessory prayers for oppressed Christians. One of the prayers was in Arabic.

What did these gestures mean? The era of de-facto appeasement under pope John Paul II is over. The era of subtle, discreet, yet firm confrontation has begun.

In dealing with Islam, expect the new pope to exhibit the same tact he displayed in the Vatican’s response to Islamic terrorism. When the United States led the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Ratzinger joined the rest of the Vatican in expressing opposition and advocating mediation through the United Nations.


YET RATZINGER’S criticism was more muted than the opposition from other Vatican officials…

Ratzinger: “We are very happy it turned out this way. It was not possible to foresee what might happen; with chemical weapons, anything was possible. But now, we can begin again.” (Zenit, Vatican-based news service, April 10, 2003)


The future pope also demonstrated his discretion with equally muted public support for John Paul’s policy toward Islam: “It is important not to attribute simplistically what happened on September 11 to Islam. It would be a great error. It is true that the history of Islam also contains a tendency to violence, but there are other aspects, too: a real openness to the will of God. It is thus important to help the positive line, which does exist in its history, to prevail and to have sufficient strength to win out over the other tendency.”

Three weeks after John Paul’s death, however, come intercessions in Arabic for oppressed Christians.

In Benedict, Islam will confront not a desperate ecumenist but a papal Bismarck adept at the German chancellor’s ultimate tactic: the velvet glove concealing the iron fist.

You’ll want to read it all. Joseph makes some excellent observations. Very impressive!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Joseph Marshall

    “It is true that the history of Islam also contains a tendency to violence, but there are other aspects, too: a real openness to the will of God.”

    I find it amusing how much “having a history with a tendency to violence” is in the eye of the beholder, how close of readers we all are of the history of others, and how lax of readers we all are about our own history.

    I’m just a poor Buddhist and probably shouldn’t even be commenting on the remark, since Buddhist principles advocate the radical abandonment, on principle, of all violence whatever.

    But at least I have the advantage of being the follower of a teacher who has never, not once, in all his 17 lives stretching back 900 years, advocated violence toward any being at all, so I can read his history with pleasure and with every degree of closeness and attention to detail.

  • Sigmund, Carl and Alfred

    While I am impressed with your initial observation, Mr Marshall, it is your teacher’s current life that is most impressive.

    As for being ‘amused’ at the observation that there is an Islamic tendency to violence, I might remind you, Mr Marshall, that even the crusades were RESPONSE to Islamic violence. The most cursory look at history is evidence enough that Islam is the record holder for violence in the name of God- and will be forever, given the rhetoric extolling violence, even today.

    I find your remarks rather arrogant, at best. If you wish to bury your head in the sand, so be it. The rest of us choose to deal with reality- in this life and hopefully, in the other 16 lives you refer to.

  • Joseph Marshall

    Well, I wasn’t thinking so much of the Crusades against Islam, as I was of the “crusade” against the Albigensians.

    This was hardly a response to Cathar “violence”. It was something more in the nature of the “culling of sheep” which the Anchoress so gently suggests we will see in the future.

    As to His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, he is now 20, an ordained monk, and currently completing his training–which was interfered with by the Chinese when he was in Tibet–as a guest of the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala.

    If you or the Anchoress would like some entertaining and exciting reading, look up the story sometime about how he stage managed his own escape from Tibet and over the Himalayas while in his teens.

    I have great hopes of meeting him in the next few years. And it would please me no end if the Anchoress and you (all three of you) and all of my blogging friends got to see him for yourselves.

    From my view at least, this would be the greatest gift and the best wish I could make for all of you. And I do so.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Anchoress, many thanks for your linking and your kind words.

    Joseph Marshall, as a dedicated Christian, let me remind you that Jesus Himself never advocated using violence to convert nonbelievers. When giving instructions to His disciples, He said that if a town they visited rejected the Gospel, they were to “shake the dust off their sandals” and move on. God would judge the town. Under no circumstances were they to force conversions by the sword.

    One reason the institutionalized church became so violent is because many Christian denominations became “established” churches in which the head of state was also the de facto head of the church in question. That church effectively became a state-owned and state-operated monopoly. As a consequence, church leaders identified more with the ruling classes and lost their sense of Gospel mission. It should be no surprise that Europe, which “perfected” the notion of a state-run church, should see such a decline in Christian committment.

  • Joseph Marshall

    Well, sir, I’m inclined to agree, and do wish all my Christian friends well. But such abandonment of “establishment” still has not become doctrine in Rome, as far as I know. “Toleration” only is the rule almost everywhere else but here. This strikes me as quite revocable everywhere, as well, despite the good luck that it has grown.
    I had not origninally intended to be quite so pointed, but SC&A did make the irrelevant claim that I was disconnected from reality.
    More particularly, I hold common ground about fighting terrorism, as I do about fighting any real threat to decent states. But that is terroism, NOT Isalm.
    It’s noteworthy that, at least officially and ostensibly, the parties in power and I agree about this, if we agree about little else.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Joseph, while disregarding the personal attack made by SC&A (sounds like a railroad), I do have to agree with their claims about Islam. The Koran and hadiths seem to justify violence against non-believers. The fact that the Muslim religious establishment refuses to punish those who take Allah’s name in vain — indeed, seems to justify it — is frightening.

    On some level, Islam’s religious establishment is responsible for fomenting this bloodthirstiness. If that establishment doesn’t reverse track, then Islam will be destroyed — either from within by undisciplined fanatics or from without by nations that will not tolerate their innocents being murdered by such fanatics.

  • http://none JMC

    So where does anyone see a conflict? On the one hand, Cardinal Ratzinger warns us not to blame Islam; on the other, under Pope Benedict the XVI, a prayer is offered in Arabic for opressed Christians. Both views are right! Islam, just like Christianity, has so many different sects, we can’t begin to identify them all, and each one views the tenets of the Koran differently. Some advocate tolerance and downplay the parts that advocate violence. Others have it exactly reversed. Some apply a stricter interpretation of the texts than others. Just as the Catholic Church has its far right and far left, and all the many degrees between, so too Islam. The problem in Islam is that, at this point in time, many of the rulers are of the Islamic far right, which has led to the oppression of Christians in those countries. It has also, one might note, led to the oppression of other sects of Moslems.

    No, there is no conflict at all. Just statements of two facets of the issue.