Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI believes that unlike other religions, Islam cannot be reformed and, therefore, is incompatible with democracy, according to a Catholic leader who participated with the pontiff in a secretive meeting on the subject.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., and founder of the publishing house Ignatius Press, spoke with talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt Jan. 5 about the gathering with the pope’s former theology students, which took place last September at Castelgondolfo in Italy, the papal summer residence.

The pope, according to Fessio, believes Islam cannot become compatible with democracy because a radical reinterpretation of the religion would be required, which is “impossible, because it’s against the very nature of the Quran, as it’s understood by Muslims.”

In July, when asked by reporters, Benedict refused to declare Islam “a religion of peace”, a phrase often invoked by President Bush.

“I would not like to use big words to apply generic labels,” the pope replied at the time. “It certainly contains elements that can favor peace, it also has other elements: We must always seek the best elements.”

Fessio said that at the Castelgondolfo meeting, Benedict was replying to Fr. Christian Troll, an expert on Islam in Europe, who asserted that Islam can enter into the modern world if the Quran is reinterpreted. This can be done, the priest said, by going back to Islam’s original principles and “then adapting it to our times, especially with the dignity that we ascribe to women, which has come through Christianity, of course.”

Describing Benedict’s response, Fessio said: “And immediately, the Holy Father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said well, there’s a fundamental problem with that, because, he said, in the Islamic tradition God has given his word to Muhammad, but it’s an eternal word. It’s not Muhammad’s word.”

In contrast, the pope said, according to Fessio, there’s “an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations.”

Another priest in attendance at the meeting – Jesuit scholar of Islamic studies Samir Khalil Samir – contended the pope was less pessimistic about Islam, reported the Italian Catholic website www.chiesa.

Samir said the pope sees a meeting between Islam and democracy as possible, but “on the condition of a radical reinterpretation of the Quran and of the very conception of divine revelation.”

The author of the www.chiesa article, Sandro Magister, noted the discussion is not merely theoretical, but “has significant geopolitical repercussions.”

“America’s overall strategy in Iraq and the greater Middle East is founded precisely upon the possibility of democracy’s birth and growth in those Muslim regions,” Magister said.

“It also involves the future of Muslim immigrants in Europe. An Islam reconciled with democracy would allow their integration. An Islam incapable of distinguishing between God and Caesar would trap them in a state of “alienation.”

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