German prelate says Vatican-Muslim dialogue must start from scratch

.- Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German Catholic Bishops Conference, said demands and threats from Muslim critics, based on a misinterpretation of the Pope’s recent comment about Islam, must cease if fruitful dialogue is to be reinitiated.

In the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Mainz, the cardinal accuses Muslim critics of mounting a campaign against the Pope.

"These open or hidden threats have to stop," Cardinal Lehmann wrote, following the call issued by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference Sept. 26 for Pope Benedict to retract the statement he made two weeks earlier in a speech at the University of Regensburg.

"Obviously we have to start at square one because we're not talking here about important contents of a necessary dialogue, but about the fundamental requirements for one to succeed,” the cardinal wrote.

He said the dialogue would have to start again from scratch because Muslim critics insist on misinterpreting Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments about Islam.

"There is freedom of religion and speech in our civilization. The Pope can also be criticized. But there are elementary rules that apply for factual and fair contacts with each other and with clear statements," he wrote.

A week ago, the German Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement saying: "The Catholic Church and many people in our country and around the world, who respect and defend the right of free speech, will not be bullied.”

The bishops complained that some critics were trying to escalate the dispute with demands and threats.

"One cannot constantly repeat completely unfounded misunderstandings when the texts are so clear," the cardinal wrote in his column.

Cardinal Lehmann noted that Pope Benedict's speech, in which he cited a 14th-century Christian emperor who described Islam as violent and inhuman, did not elicit any reaction at first from the press. No questions on that point were asked in the news conference the cardinal gave after the Pope left Munich Sept. 14.

"Only a few days later did a full-blown campaign from outside begin," he wrote. He said it was "astounding" that critics should repeatedly say the Pope had insulted Muslims. He writes that the Holy Father has no reason to apologize.

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