Here is an insightful analysis into the immense problems with the Catholic Church's stance toward Islam, as epitomized by the cancellation (after mainstream media and Islamic supremacist pressure on the bishop) of my scheduled talk at a Catholic Men's Conference in Worcester, Massachusetts next week. "Wise As Serpents?," by William Kilpatrick in FrontPage, March 12:
...Spencer’s treatment at the hands of the Diocese of Worcester provides some insights into the problems that the bishops are creating for themselves by not acknowledging the substantial differences between Islam and Christianity. Spencer, a Catholic and a leading authority on Islam, was invited to speak to a Catholic men’s conference in Worcester, Massachusetts, on March 16; however, when Muslim groups protested that Spencer was a “hatemonger,” Bishop Robert McManus withdrew the invitation. Moreover, he failed to respond to Spencer’s request for a meeting to answer the charges against him.
Spencer also says he has received several reports that part of the pressure applied to the diocese came from a Boston Globe reporter, Lisa Wangsness, who, says Spencer, was working behind the scenes to engineer a cancellation. Although the bishop denies having bowed to pressure, the Boston Globe’s interest in the lecture may have weighed as heavily on his mind as the complaints from Muslim organizations. It was the Boston Globe, after all, that broke the sex abuse story in 2002. With the long shadow of that earlier scandal still looming, Catholic leaders in Massachusetts might understandably want to avoid the kind of media publicity that would ensue should they invite a “hatemonger” and “Islamophobe” to speak about Islam.
In a letter to the diocese defending his action, the bishop quotes the brief statement in Lumen Gentium which, he writes, “speaks about the special relationship that Christianity has for Islam.” He continues:
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.
The Bishop then goes on to say that his decision to disinvite Spencer was based “solely on the concern that Mr. Spencer’s talk would impact negatively on the Church’s increasingly constructive dialogue with Muslims.” So, in sum, Lumen Gentium made possible a fruitful dialogue which Spencer’s appearance might undermine. But in light of the fact that persecution of Christians by Muslims has increased dramatically in the last decade—a decade in which dialogue with Muslims has multiplied—it is difficult to imagine just what this “harvest of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation” might consist of. The bishop doesn’t say.
In deciding not to scandalize Muslims, however, the bishop may only end up scandalizing his own flock—or, at least, some of them. While not a member of the Worcester Diocese, Doctor Archietto Ashraf Ramelah is a member of the worldwide community of Christians and president of the Coptic human rights organization Voice of the Copts. He is familiar with Spencer’s work and he is scandalized at the cancellation. On hearing of the Worcester incident, he sent a letter to the pope voicing his concern. In his letter, he expresses his bewilderment at how often Catholic and Coptic Orthodox churches seemed “uninterested in offering us opportunities to speak out on the dangers of what lies behind the persecution of Christians and Jews.” He attributes the indifference to an unwillingness to hear any facts about Islam that conflict with the received narrative or that might jeopardize dialogue. And he pleads with the pope to take action to lift the curtain of silence that shelters Islam from honest examination.
According to a Newsweek story, about 200,000 Christian Copts were forced to flee their homes during the year of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt. For someone like Dr. Ramelah, the discrepancy between what Church leaders say about Islam and the reality in North Africa is painfully apparent. But even ordinary Catholics in ordinary places like Worcester are sooner or later going to come to the conclusion—if only from watching the streaming headlines at the bottom of their TV screens—that Islam is not a peaceful religion and that it is not at all like the Catholic faith. When the chasm that divides Islam and Christianity becomes more evident to these ordinary Catholics, the credibility of the Church may once again come into question. As I wrote in my recent book on the subject:
As the threat from a resurgent Islam becomes more apparent, Catholics may well begin to feel that they have been misled on an issue vital to their security. The complaint against the Church will shift from “Why didn’t Church officials do more to protect children?” to “Why didn’t they tell us the rest of the story about Islam?”
Scandal in the strict sense is an attitude or behavior which leads another into a grave offense. We usually think of it in terms of licentious behavior, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, scandal can also be provoked by “fashion or opinion.” The Catechism notes that “Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.” In the wake of the abuse scandals in Massachusetts, many Catholics lost their faith, or, at least, stopped attending Mass. This occurred not only because of the scandalous behavior of some priests but also and primarily because these Catholics came to the conclusion that the Church was untrustworthy. The Church in Ireland experienced a similar fall-off. Eighty-two percent of Irish Catholics attended Mass weekly in 1981; by 2012 the figure was 35 percent. A good chunk of this decline had to do with the rapid secularization of Ireland in the last few decades, but the revelations of abuse cover-ups seem to have accelerated the trend.
As more Catholics become aware of the realities of Islamic teachings and practices, it will surely test their faith to hear the bishops persist in speaking of our “special relationship” with Islam. For many, this will be not merely a matter of anger but also of despair at the thought that Church leaders are enabling the spread of a system that has always subjugated Christians whenever it had the power to do so.
Indeed, the very dialogue which Bishop McManus sees as so promising may turn out to be simply one of many stepping stones that Muslim activists use to secure dominance in the West. Consider a recent series of Catholic-Muslim dialogues sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops’ dialogue partners were all prominent figures in Muslim activists groups with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and with other questionable associations. One of the bishops’ counterparts was Sayyid Syeed, the National Director for the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)—a group that was designated in 2008 as an unindicted co-conspirator in a massive terrorist funding case. One of the two keynote speakers was Jamal Badawi, also a member of ISNA, and a defender of suicide bombers, whom he has described as “martyrs.” The co-chair with Bishop Carlos Sevilla was Muzammil Siddiqi, a member of the Fiqh Council on North America, an organization which numbers among its original trustees one Abdurahman Alamoudi, who is now serving a twenty three-year sentence for financing an assassination attempt on the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Another of the bishops’ dialogue partners was Talat Sultan of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). In October, Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal announced that it would bring war crimes charges against Ashrafuzzam Khan, a formed president and secretary general of the ICNA.
So, on the one hand, the Bishop of Worcester deems Robert Spencer to be unfit to speak to Catholic men, but on the other hand, at the USCCB plenary session in Chicago, the bishops were “sharing stories, praying, and enjoying meals together” with representatives of organizations whose ties to radical groups have been established by U.S. courts. It may be that the representatives of these political activist groups are pursuing dialogue with Catholics because they sincerely desire that “harvest of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation” that Bishop McManus speaks of. But another possibility should be considered, namely that the Muslims are using the dialogues primarily for legitimizing themselves and Islam. In other words, the dialogues provide a sort of cover for the Islamists. Muslim activists can plausibly point to their warm relations with the bishops as proof that they cannot be the agents of subversion that others say they are. Moreover, cultivating dialogue with Catholic leaders is a handy way of keeping the majority of Catholics off their guard. As long as prominent Catholic leaders are enthusiastic about their dialogues with Muslims, the average Catholic is likely to conclude that the Church is okay with Islam and that, therefore, there really isn’t any cause for worry....