TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Pope Benedict tried on Sunday to calm Muslim anger at his remarks on Islam, saying he was “deeply sorry” about the reaction and that medieval quotes he used on holy war did not reflect his personal views.
The head of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics stopped short of the full apology or retraction demanded by some Muslims for a speech they say portrayed Islam as tainted by violence.
It was unclear whether his words would end the backlash.
Many across the Muslim countries have expressed dismay at what they see as offensive comments and religious leaders have called it the start of a new Christian crusade against Islam.
In the speech, the Pope, a former theology professor and enforcer of Vatican dogma, referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.
The emperor said everything the Prophet Mohammad brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and politicians in Italy rushed to Benedict’s defense, saying he had been misunderstood and had really being making an appeal for dialogue.
But angry Muslim leaders flung what they saw as allegations of violence back at the West, referring to the medieval crusades against Islam and to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have fanned the flames of Muslim resentment.
In Iran about 500 theological school students protested in the holy city of Qom on Sunday and influential cleric Ahmad Khatami as well as many other religious and official bodies and organizations warned that if the Pope did not apologize, “Muslims’ outcry will continue until he fully regrets his remarks”.
In London, a small demo was held outside Westminster Cathedral. The protesters chanted slogans and carries banners condemning remarks made by the Pope.
The uproar had raised questions about whether a papal visit to Turkey in November could go ahead, but the Turkish government, while calling his remarks “ugly”, said there were no plans to call it off.
The church has officially encouraged dialogue with Islam and other non-Christian faiths since the Second Vatican Council that ended in 1965. Benedict has sought dialogue with Islam — but he also stresses Europe’s Christian roots and, before elected, said he opposed mainly Muslim Turkey joining the European Union.
He may have come closer than any modern-day pope to saying sorry in public for something he has said. His predecessor John Paul II made public apologies for the church’s historic errors, such as the Inquisition and its failings in World War Two.