5/9/2009--The media reported today on Pope Benedict’s visit to Jordan. The headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read “Pope Expresses Respect for Islam on Mideast Trip.” The subtext was that the Pope would be more careful about what he said concerning Islam after his 2006 remarks seeming to criticize Islam for its willingness to spread its faith by the sword led to outrage and even violence.
I think the media have a hard time understanding Pope Benedict. My impression from reading two of his works before becoming Pope, Truth and Tolerance and Many Religions-One Covenant, is that Pope Benedict does not have to watch what he says. His respect for Islam, and for that matter all the World Religions, is quite sincere. On the other hand, he believes that the revelation of God reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Naturally, therefore, he also sincerely criticizes the limitations of any way of life, Muslim or secular, that lacks a connection to Christ. He is not criticizing them for not recognizing Christ, but for the errors in understanding the nature of God (or ultimate reality) that flow from the failure to come to full relationship with Christ.
I am certain that Benedict has never waivered from his refusal to judge the ultimate truth of any religion for salvation. He has called that “a question that can in fact be decided only by him who shall judge the world… .” (Truth, 18). Of course that does not reduce his commitment to truth in the Catholic understanding of Christ, but it does prohibit his viewing himself as arbiter of the World Religions.