Speaking in Many Tongues

Why the Church Must Be More Catholic

By now, much of the world knows about the uproar caused by Pope Benedict XVI’s September lecture at the University of Regensburg in his native Bavaria. In his lectio magistralis Benedict quoted a text of the fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which asserted that the advent of Mohammed had brought “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Calling the emperor “erudite,” Benedict cited these words without any rejection, either explicit or implicit, of the view they set forth, and the resulting perception of disrespect for the Prophet triggered violent reactions in parts of the Muslim world, possibly including the retaliatory murder of an Italian nun in Somalia.

In the aftermath, the pope expressed deep regret for the reactions his speech had caused (though not for making the speech itself), and Vatican officials and church leaders hastened to affirm his profound respect for Islam and commitment to interreligious dialogue. Meetings with representatives of various Muslim governments and with Muslim religious leaders were organized; indeed, the end of November found Benedict visiting Turkey, amid an atmosphere fraught with political and religious tension, spreading a message of goodwill and love. But while attempts to clarify Benedict’s view of Islam and to restore harmony between the Catholic Church and Islam are urgently needed, lost...

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About the Author

Peter C. Phan, a Vietnamese American, holds the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University. He has written or edited more than twenty books and three hundred essays. His latest work includes a trilogy: Christianity with an Asian Face, In Our Own Tongues, and Being Religious Interreligiously (Orbis Books). This essay has been funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.