A Headache for Benedict
Roman Catholicism is massive, with over a billion believers. Islam has about 1.3 billion. The collision of these two faiths will be the world’s next Big Story.
Pope John Paul ii, conservative and convicted, saw the rise in Islam as an issue, and not a small one. A man who viewed every Muslim as spiritually deficient—a mind that daily pondered questions of doctrine and dogma, faith and salvation—could not have looked at Islam in the world today—fiery, fierce, explosive and spreading—and not seen a problem.
That pope’s weapon of choice against that adversary was dialogue. He didn’t lash out against Muslims; he engaged them. He visited mosques and talked about a need for Christian-Muslim brotherhood and friendship.
A number of cardinals have followed John Paul ii’s lead. In their view, the church has no choice but to be a good neighbor with the swelling numbers of Muslims. To this end, one Italian cardinal even launched a magazine devoted to advancing Christian-Muslim relations.
Don’t expect Pope Benedict xvi to take that gentle, conciliatory approach. He believes that dialogue unacceptably puts Christianity and Islam on equal footing—and that such efforts have enfeebled European Catholicism, which is now enslaved by “the dictatorship of relativism.” In a climate of religious pluralism and relativism, the new pope is unafraid to take an unpopular stand.
Consider his views as stated in “Dominus Iesus.” In this paper, Ratzinger said that all religions that fail to accept the doctrine of apostolic succession (the uninterrupted transfer of papal authority through the generations from the Apostle Peter to, now, himself) are “not churches in the proper sense,” and that, as far as salvation for their followers is concerned, “objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation” in comparison to those in the Catholic Church.
Consider his statement last August that Turkey, which seeks membership in the European Union, should look for allies elsewhere. Why? Because its Muslim faith is “in permanent contrast” with European Christianity. “Europe was founded not on a geography, but on a common faith,” he said.
Consider his publicly expressed concern over the rise of Islam. As the New York Times put it, Ratzinger “represents a skeptical faction” among Roman Catholics, “one that sees the relationship between Christianity and Islam more as a competition” (April 13, emphasis mine).
Christians and Muslims are at each other’s throats around the globe, including in the Caucasus, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, several African countries (Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Kenya, Tanzania), Indonesia and the Philippines.
But for Benedict xvi, the first battleground is Europe, where Catholicism seems to be shrinking just as Islam waxes strong. The Bavarian pontiff is sure to make correcting this problem a priority. He is not one to turn the other cheek to the Islamic assault on the bastion of his beloved religion.
The new pope’s counterattack will start at home. His election signals a strong desire by the church to revitalize the religious roots of the Continent. As Joseph Fessio, a friend and former doctoral student of Cardinal Ratzinger, told the Washington Post, in electing this man the cardinals chose to make one more attempt to hold on to the Christian identity of Europe.
Benedict will capitalize on the unprecedented flood of popular goodwill his church is enjoying. He will seek ways to increase the Vatican’s profile in European politics and to consolidate its power base. He will bridle the liberalism that leeches the church’s strength.
In fact, the new pope will be able to use the rise in Islam as one of the biggest catalysts for European Christians to abandon secularism in droves and to rally around the banner of Roman Catholicism.
Even today, in the face of runaway immigration of Muslims to Europe and Islamic terrorist cells being uncovered on the Continent, we see the Christian European public’s antipathy toward Islam rising—boiling over in places.
This hatred plays perfectly into the hands of the Vatican.
Once the pope has shored up the support he needs, he will turn his full attention to facing his most zealous enemy. Pushed into a corner, the Roman Catholic Church will lash out.
As Monsignor Cesare Mazzolari said of John Paul ii last October, “The church has defeated communism, but is just starting to understand its next challenge—Islamism, which is much worse. The holy father has not been able to take up this challenge due to his old age. But the next pope will find himself having to face it.”
Benedict xvi will not be the first pope to brace himself for this challenge. He will take his place beside Gregory vii, Urban ii and the other bishops of Rome who have battled the Muslim faith. This age-old clash of civilizations is almost here once again.
You need to understand the prophetic significance of this war of religions. Read the cover story from December 2004 by Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry, “The Coming War Between Catholicism and Islam.” And brace yourself.