About the most generous thing I can say about Pope B16's speech at the University of Regensburg last Tuesday is that he put his foot in it. While it does seem that his quotation of Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, relating to Mohammed, was reported internationally out of context, Cardinal Ratzinger should know that in this day and age, anything he says will be taken down and used as evidence against him.
On Saturday the Vatican Secretary of State issued a statement of clarification, followed by the Pope's qualified apology at Angelus on Sunday. The quotes, he says, do not reflect his personal thoughts. That sounds reasonable enough, but why use that argument in his "Faith, Reason and the University" address?
At a time when relations between the Christian world and the Islamic world are decidedly tetchy in places, discretion, even from the head of the Roman Catholic Church, is the better part of valour. Which brings us to the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell. Let's just pour a barrel-full of kero on that scrubfire, hey George?
Interesting debate at The Guardian's Comment Is Free blog today, kicked off by an opinion piece from US theological author Karen Armstrong.
For all that, my personal view is that the Pope is probably entitled to the Voltaire defence, and that any worthwhile religion is robust enough to withstand criticism, contempt or ridicule. Christianity and Islam are both robust. There's no need for over-reaction.