Worcester bishop: “Spencer”s talk about extreme, militant Islamists…might undercut the positive achievements that we Catholics have attained in our inter-religious dialogue with devout Muslims”
Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts canceled my scheduled address to this Catholic Men’s Conference on March 16 after pressure from an Islamic supremacist who is an open “friend and supporter” of a convicted jihad terrorist. In the letter below, he justifies his action; my comments are interspersed.
Bishop McManus called me last Wednesday morning, but it was a wrong number: he was calling someone named “Steve” and somehow dialed my number by mistake. I seized the opportunity, told him who I was, and asked for a face-to-face meeting (which I have previously requested in a phone message to his office and in emails to him, his secretary, and his spokesman). He said he was in the airport in Dallas and would call me back; he never did, and up to this point I have not received the courtesy of any kind of reply from anyone to my requests for a meeting.
Here is the petition that is circulating asking Bishop McManus to allow me to speak after all.
“Catholic Men”s Conference opens ticket sales,” from Catholic Free Press, February 8 (thanks to Tom):
Bishop shares concerns about conference speaker
My dear friends in Christ,
It is fitting that as the universal Church celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, I as your bishop, who am called to work to implement authentically the teachings of this historic council, should reflect on the various documents of this momentous Church event.
In light of my recent decision to rescind the invitation to Mr. Robert Spencer to speak at the Catholic Men”s Conference next month on the topic of Islam in its relation to Christianity, I should like to reflect briefly on the conciliar document entitled, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), specifically on paragraph 16 of Chapter 2 which speaks about the special relationship that Christianity has to Islam. The paragraph states, “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these are the Muslims who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” (LG. #16)”
It is indeed important to “reflect” on what that text means. I do so at length in my book Not Peace But A Sword, which will be published March 25 by Catholic Answers. Does it mean that we are not to speak about the theological difference between Christianity and Islam, or about the Qur’anic roots of Muslim persecution of Christians, or related issues? I don’t think so. Bishop McManus says below that it means that Catholics should engage in “inter-religious dialogue with Muslims.” Fine. Should that dialogue proceed on the basis of ignoring unpleasant truths, or of discussing them, respectfully and openly?
As a result of such a theologically salient statement, the Catholic Church has engaged herself in inter-religious dialogue with Muslims. This dialogue has produced a harvest of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation throughout the world and here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“A harvest of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation throughout the world”? I wonder if the bishop would be so kind as to provide even one example of where inter-religious dialogue between the Catholic Church and Muslims has “produced a harvest of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.” Sure, the Muslim leaders in Massachusetts assure him of their good will — but remember, in canceling my appearance he is catering to the demands of a “friend and supporter” of a convicted jihad terrorist.
And meanwhile, here is that harvest of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation throughout the world over the last few days:
All this is over just the last few weeks. And there is much, much more, as a quick perusal of the Jihad Watch archives will reveal. But let’s imagine for the sake of argument that Roman Catholics elsewhere are indeed reaping a “harvest of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation throughout the world” from their dialogue with Muslims. Would that dialogue not be more fruitful if it actually discussed real difficulties between Christians and Muslims, the root causes of those difficulties, and ways to remedy them?
My decision to ask Mr. Spencer not to speak at the Men”s Conference resulted from a concern voiced by members of the Islamic community in Massachusetts, a concern that I came to share. That concern was that Mr. Spencer”s talk about extreme, militant Islamists and the atrocities that they have perpetrated globally might undercut the positive achievements that we Catholics have attained in our inter-religious dialogue with devout Muslims and possibly generate suspicion and even fear of people who practice piously the religion of Islam.
Nota bene: He never asked me not to speak. He never communicated with me at all, except for that wrong number call.
But in any case, why would a talk about “extreme, militant Islamists and the atrocities that they have perpetrated globally” undercut dialogue with Muslims who profess to reject those atrocities and the interpretation of Islam that underlies and justifies them? If they reject the jihadists’ understanding of Islam, why wouldn’t they welcome and applaud an honest discussion of that understanding of Islam, which presumably they oppose as much as I do?
And my talk would generate “suspicion and even fear of people who practice piously the religion of Islam”? Islamic supremacist talking point. I have consistently stood for equality of rights of all people before the law and denounced all action against innocent people. Only those who wish to discredit my work so as to clear away obstacles before the advancing jihad claim otherwise.
In press reports concerning the cancellation of Mr. Spencer”s presentation, it was inaccurately stated that my decision was based on my wanting to avoid a media event unfavorable to the Diocese of Worcester. That was not the case.
The source for this is one of his own clergy: “Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, lead organizer of the men”s conference, told the Telegram & Gazette that some groups, including members of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, perceive Mr. Spencer as anti-Islamic. While the diocese does not share that view, he said, the invitation was withdrawn to avoid ‘a media outcry.’” — Worcester Telegram
Others in some messages they sent to me, most of which were less than charitable and civil, claimed that I had “caved in to the demands of Islamic supremacists.”
As to caving in to Islamic supremacists, it is a pity that Bishop McManus doesn’t address the fact that in cancelling my talk he was acceding to the demands of an open “friend and supporter” of a convicted jihad terrorist. But his complaint that most of the messages he received were “less than charitable and civil” I regard with skepticism. I asked people to write to him “politely and courteously,” and the overwhelming majority of the many, many such letters that were copied to me were indeed polite and courteous. In saying this, he is implying that the people who oppose his decision to drop my talk are hateful louts, rather than people concerned for the defense of human rights against Sharia oppression, and for persecuted non-Muslims in Muslim countries. It is unfortunate to see a Roman Catholic bishop picking up a smear tactic that Islamic supremacists frequently use to try to intimidate people into thinking that there is something wrong with speaking out against that oppression and persecution.
This of course is uninformed nonsense. In fact, I based my decision solely on the concern that Mr. Spencer”s talk would impact negatively on the Church”s increasingly constructive dialogue with Muslims.
“Increasingly constructive dialogue”? Constructive how? Has it resulted in fewer Christians being persecuted in Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, or the other countries where Muslims are brutalizing and terrorizing them? Has it resulted in a reform or rejection of the Islamic texts and teachings mandating warfare against and subjugation of Christians and other non-Muslims (cf. Qur’an 9:29)?
How is dialogue improved by ignoring unpleasant facts?
The Catholic Men”s Conference is a wonderful opportunity for men to come together to reflect on their spiritual lives and to become better informed about their Catholic faith and its implications for their daily living. Since the Diocese of Worcester sponsors this event annually, we concluded that a speaker whose focus would be on the danger of militant Islamist jihad, a topic that might be appropriate at a conference on international politics with a forum for debate, was not suitable for our conference.
That’s another point: that a talk like mine simply wouldn’t fit in with a conference about faith and spirituality. Fair enough. But the conference organizers invited me last June; clearly they thought my talk would fit right in. And the Bishop didn’t seem to have a problem with my being there until the Islamic supremacists and mainstream media began making a fuss. Coincidence of coincidences, then he discovered my talk just didn’t fit in.
It is true that Christians in parts of the world where Islam is the dominant religion have suffered and continue to suffer persecution at the hands of Islamist extremists and terrorists. Our local Muslim leaders themselves have publicly described these violent Muslim militants as “heretics” and have condemned such abominable acts. We hold our Christian brothers and sisters who are enduring such persecution in our prayers as we vigorously support every effort to work diplomatically for their protection and well-being.
I’m glad they’ve condemned the persecutors as “heretics,” although I’d be interested to know on what Islamic grounds they did so. In any case, here again — if this is so, why would they be so threatened by a discussion of the beliefs that gave rise to the persecution in the first place, and of how free people can respond effectively to that persecution? Shouldn’t they be joining in such an honest discussion, rather than trying to shut it down?
During this Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI and especially during the holy season of Lent that we are soon entering, I ask that we call on the Holy Spirit to encourage us to share our faith with others, especially our brothers and sisters of other faiths, in order to further the crucial mission of the New Evangelization. As we seek to introduce the Lord Jesus to others, let us pray that our personal and ecclesial witness of faith may help others to know and love Christ who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Most Reverend Robert J. McManus
Bishop of Worcester
I’ll be there on March 16 — at an exhibitor’s table or outside.