The Vatican is urging Islamic countries to show more tolerance towards Christian minorities after riots in Turkey and Nigeria saw two priests murdered and left 146 Christians and Muslims dead.
The violence erupted in response to the cartoons of Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper in the fall and which have been reprinted in other newspapers since then.
After criticizing both the cartoons and the violent protests in Muslim countries, the Vatican has restated the Church’s longtime concern that the rights of people of other faiths are severely limited in Muslim states.
In a meeting Monday with the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said peace can only be assured through "respect for the religious convictions and practices of others, in a reciprocal way in all societies".
Since then, several Vatican officials have shared the Church’s concern and their perspective on the situation with the Italian secular press. "If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us," Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano told journalists in Rome.
Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo told the daily Corriere della Sera that the Church “must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts.”
Reciprocity refers to Muslim states granting Christian minorities the same rights as Muslims generally have in Western countries, such as building houses of worship or practising religion freely.
Currently, Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim religion and sometimes arrests Christians for worshipping privately, reported Reuters. Pakistan allows churches to operate but deprives Christians many rights.
Iraqi Christians say they were well treated under Saddam Hussein, but believers have been killed, churches burnt and women forced to wear Muslim garb since Islamic groups gained power in 2003, reported Reuters.
Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, told Corriere della Sera the Vatican should speak out more and drop its “diplomatic silence.”
"We should put pressure on international organizations to make the societies and states in majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities," he said.
Msgr. Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, was probably the most expressive about his frustration with the treatment of Christians in Islamic states. "Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves," he told La Stampa. "The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century, mostly for oil, and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights.”