ROME (Church Militant.com) - A number of Italian bishops are offering praise for Islam and defending it as a religion with a role in salvation. Pope Francis' new appointment as president for the Italian bishops' conference, Cdl. Gualtiero Bassetti, archbishop of Perugia, immediately made his ecumenical priorities clear.
At his first public appearance, just a few days after the Manchester terror attack, Cdl. Bassetti officiated at an "interreligious prayer" in a school of his diocese. He said there:
Religions are not the cause of violence and terrorism. ... It's been like that for us as well, because in the past the Red terrorists would also come from our Catholic universities. ... Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the same Creator, and the mixing of the races is inevitable. Whoever denies that denies man, and therefore, any principle of humanism.
Another prelate is offering his blessing to Muslims during "the holy month of Ramadan." Bishop Ambrogio Sperafico, president of the Bishops' Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, wrote a message to Muslims on behalf of the Italian bishops conference: "To the only God, clement and merciful, we entrust the holy month of Ramadan, your and our communities, the journey we have done and the one we can and would like to do together. Ramadan mubarak, a blessed Ramadan, everybody."
In an interview with AgenSIR, Bp. Sperafico went on to defend Islam. "It's evident that anyone who identifies Islam with terrorism, doesn't know Islam," he insisted. "And this is the problem: The ignorance around us is such that it's too easy to take advantage of it."
He went on to blame "ignorance" as the source of violence: "Ignorance is a herald of great violence in words and actions."
The bishop also mentioned the Islamic explanatory documents prepared by the Italian bishops conference, published in 2015 with the intent "to create a dialogue mentality." One document declares that Islam plays a role "in the history of salvation":
The settling of Muslims in our country, the rise of new generations of Muslims (Italians in all aspects), the increase of mixed marriages ... [T]hese factors have posed the problem of cohabitation with those of a different religion. ... It's possible to recognize a role for Islam in the history of salvation. ... This hypothesis presents arguments on which the current formulations of the magisteriummay find significant convergences: the unity of the human family ... along with the common origin and destiny of all men — God.
The tone is in marked contrast to that of documents produced by the bishops in the recent past. As an example, the preface of a book on interreligious dialogue published by the bishops' conference of Emilia Romagna in 2000 announced, "Our brothers in the Faith, who live in countries of Muslim majority, warn us ... of their substantial religious intolerance, largely documented in many countries and their desire for conquest (of which they make no mystery at all)."
The book was printed when Cdl. Giacomo Biffi, "the least politically correct of all cardinals," was still archbishop of Bologna. Biffi was known for his criticism of Islam and for saying that the anti-Christ is likely to be a "philanthropist supporting creeds like vegetarianism, animal rights or pacifism."
The anti-Christ is likely to be a 'philanthropist supporting creeds like vegetarianism, animal rights or pacifism.'Tweet
While the statements praising Islam were overlooked by the media, the words of Msgr. Luigi Negri, archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio, who offered a moving tribute to the victims of the Islamic terror attack in Manchester, were met with rage. In his letter, published with Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Negri referred to the young victims as his "children," saying:
You were born, often undesired, and nobody has given you "adequate reasons to live." ... [Y]our funerals will be celebrated outdoors, even for those of you who were believers, because in our times the only temple is nature. ... In the churches, they do not celebrate funerals anymore, because as Cdl. Sarah put it so sharply, in the Catholic churches they are now celebrating the funeral of God. ... I hope that at least some of these cultural, political and religious gurus will hold back their words and will not overrun us with their usual speeches, saying that this "is not a religion war," that "religion by its nature is open to dialogue and understanding."
The Bologna Muslim community, who haven't yet offered any comments regarding the Manchester attack, was quick to express anger at Negri's words. "We will never tire of condemning these atrocities," they claimed. "No religion can justify this barbarism. ... Maybe someone could tell the bishop of Ferrara that the majority of victims of terrorism today are Muslims. ... [W]hat religious war is he talking about?"
Some of the outraged reactions among Catholics include that of vaticanista Massimo Faggioli, who asked for Negri's removal from the Ferrara diocese "for causing scandal," as well as the response from Andrea Grillo (who recently excoriated Benedict XVI for his traditionalist sensibilities, wishing him to die an institutional death): "Isn't this the case of a bishop, that slipping in his own prejudices, judged the victims with the same logic of their murderer? Isn't this the creation of an alliance between Islamic fundamentalism and Catholic fundamentalism?"