By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS (Reuters) - After backing calls by Muslims for
respect for their religion in the Mohammad cartoons row, the
Vatican is now urging Islamic countries to reciprocate by
showing more tolerance toward their Christian minorities.
Roman Catholic leaders at first said Muslims were right to
be outraged when Western newspapers reprinted Danish
caricatures of the Prophet, including one with a bomb in his
turban. Most Muslims consider any images of Mohammad to be
After criticizing both the cartoons and the violent
protests in Muslim countries that followed, the Vatican this
week linked the issue to its long-standing concern that the
rights of other faiths are limited, sometimes severely, in
Vatican prelates have been concerned by recent killings of
two Catholic priests in Turkey and Nigeria. Turkish media
linked the death there to the cartoons row. At least 146
Christians and Muslims have died in five days of religious
riots in Nigeria.
"If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we
have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us,"
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State (prime
minister), told journalists in Rome.
"We must always stress our demand for reciprocity in
political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and,
even more, in cultural contacts," Foreign Minister Archbishop
Giovanni Lajolo told the daily Corriere della Sera.
Reciprocity -- allowing Christian minorities the same
rights as Muslims generally have in Western countries, such as
building houses of worship or practicing religion freely -- is
at the heart of Vatican diplomacy toward Muslim states.
Vatican diplomats argue that limits on Christians in some
Islamic countries are far harsher than restrictions in the West
that Muslims decry, such as France's ban on headscarves in
Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim
religion and sometimes arrests Christians even for worshipping
privately. Pakistan allows churches to operate but its Islamic
laws effectively deprive Christians of many rights.
Both countries are often criticized at the United Nations
Human Rights Commission for violating religious freedoms.
"ENOUGH TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK"
Pope Benedict signaled his concern on Monday when he told
the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican that peace can only
be assured by "respect for the religious convictions and
practices of others, in a reciprocal way in all societies."
He mentioned no countries by name. Morocco is tolerant of
other religions, but like all Muslim countries frowns on
conversion from Islam to another faith.
Iraqi Christians say they were well treated under Saddam
Hussein's secular policies, but believers have been killed,
churches burned and women forced to wear Muslim garb since
Islamic groups gained sway after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Christians make up only a tiny fraction of the population
in most Muslim countries. War and political pressure in recent
decades have forced many to emigrate from Middle Eastern
communities dating back to just after the time of Jesus.
As often happens at the Vatican, lower-level officials have
been more outspoken than the Pope and his main aides.
"Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our
duty to protect ourselves," Monsignor Velasio De Paolis,
secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, thundered in the
daily La Stampa. Jesus told his followers to "turn the other
cheek" when struck.
"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," he said.
Bishop Rino Fisichella, head of one of the Roman
universities that train young priests from around the world,
told Corriere della Sera the Vatican should speak out more.
"Let's drop this diplomatic silence," said the rector of
the Pontifical Lateran University. "We should put pressure on
international organizations to make the societies and states in
majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities."