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Pope sorry, Muslims say not enough

Vatican City, Sept. 16 (Reuters): Pope Benedict is sorry Muslims were offended by a speech that provoked fury in the Islamic world and led to calls for the leader of the Catholic church to apologise personally, the Vatican said today.

“The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers,” Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said.

Benedict’s worst crisis since he was elected in April 2005 was sparked by a speech in his native Germany on Tuesday that appeared to endorse a Christian view, contested by most Muslims, that early Muslims spread their religion by violence.

The backlash has cast doubt on a planned visit to Turkey by the Pope in November. In an early reaction to the Vatican statement, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said it was not enough and they wanted “a personal apology”.

“We feel he has committed a grave error against us and that this mistake will only be removed through a personal apology,” the Brotherhood’s deputy leader, Mohammed Habib, said.

The Pope’s next scheduled public appearance is his Angelus blessing tomorrow, when he often comments on current affairs. Bertone, walking into the crisis only a day after taking over as “deputy pope”, said the 79-year-old Pope confirmed “his respect and esteem for those who profess the Islamic faith” and hoped his words would be understood “in their true sense”.

The academic speech was meant as a “a clear and radical rejection of religiously motivated violence, wherever it comes from”, said the statement, which came as criticism of the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics swelled.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said today before the Vatican statement that the Pope’s comments were “ugly and unfortunate” and should be withdrawn.

“The Pope spoke like a politician rather than as a man of religion,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

Yemen’s President publicly denounced the pontiff and five churches — only one of them Catholic — were attacked in the West Bank, although no one was hurt.

Morocco's King Mohammed recalled his ambassador to the Vatican for consultations, the official MAP news agency said today.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German politicians defended his comments, saying he had been misunderstood. “It was an invitation to dialogue between religions,” she said.

The New York Times said in an editorial the Pope must issue a “deep and persuasive” apology for quotes used in his speech. “The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain,” it said.

In the speech, the Pope referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.

Using the terms “jihad” and “holy war”, the Pope said violence was “incompatible with the nature of God”.

But Bertone said the Pontiff “had absolutely no intention” of presenting Emperor Manuel’s opinions on Islam as his own. Vatican insiders say the Pope may have mixed up his new roles with his former post as a theologian and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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