Magdi Allam, an Egyptian expatriate who fights Islamism in Europe, wrote in Milan’s Il Giornale that he was leaving “because this Church is too weak against Islam.”
Allam is right.
Five centuries after the Battle of Lepanto, Catholic leadership exemplifies dhimmitude. Catholic leaders appease Islam by sacrificing both the victims of violent persecution and the Church's moral credibility on the altar of ecumenical dialogue with an ostensibly Abrahamic religion.
The Church's approach reflects the ideas of French-Catholic scholar Louis Massignon, who became involved with archeological and diplomatic ventures in North Africa and the Middle East during the early 20th Century.
As chairman of the Department of Muslim Sociology and Sociography at Paris' College de France for 28 years, Massignon studied Abraham's significance to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Among his conclusions:
- The God of Abraham is also the God of Muhammad, whom Massignon described as occupying a "patriarchal state" on Abraham's level.
- Islam is "the faith of Abraham revived with Muhammad," wrote Massignon, who believed it had a prophetic role in reminding Christians of their own vocation: "Islam is a great mystery of the divine will, the claim of the excluded, those chased into the desert with Ishmael, their ancestor, against the 'privileged' ones of God, the Jews, and especially the Christians, who have abused the divine privileges of Grace. Islam is the divine lance, which, by the Holy War, has stigmatized Christianity."
- The Qur'an contains a level of divine inspiration designed "to make minds rediscover, and to recall to them the name of God, the temporal and eternal sanctions, the natural religion, the primordial law, the very simple cult which God had prescribed forever, which Adam, Abraham and the prophets practiced under the same forms," Massignon wrote.
Because Muslims are Abraham's descendants, Massignon concluded, "they have the right to equality among the monotheisms descended from Abraham to participate in the double promise made to Abraham, that of the Messiah and that of the Holy Land."
Massignon corresponded with Thomas Merton, consulted with Popes Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII and formed friendships with Jacques Maritain and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini – the future Pope Paul VI. That latter friendship led to one of Vatican II's most important encyclicals: "Nostra Aetate," the document on inter-religious relations. While focusing on the Church's repudiation of anti-Semitism, "Nostra Aetate" addressed Islam:
"The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. ... (T)his sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."
Another Vatican II encyclical, "Lumen Gentium," stated that "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, 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."
Yet Massignon's views reflect not his consideration of Islam as a whole but of Sufi mysticism, which most Muslims consider heretical. Massignon wrote his four-volume doctoral dissertation on a Persian mystic from the 10th Century, Mansour al-Hallaj, who believed in a mystical union with God that approached annihilating the ego and contradicted Muslim theology.
Edward Said, the Columbia professor who advocated Palestinian statehood, accused Massignon of exploiting al-Hallaj to represent "values essentially outlawed by the mainstream doctrinal system of Islam, a system that Massignon himself described mainly in order to circumvent it with al-Hallaj," he wrote.
Massignon's emphasis on the mystical reflected an experience that became the turning point of his life. In 1908, Ottoman authorities arrested the 24-year-old Massignon, whom they accused of espionage. While incarcerated, Massignon said a "Stranger without a Face" visited him in a vision and judged him for his self-centered life. Yet the "Stranger" withheld punishment, Massignon said, because of the intercessory prayers of five parties -- including al-Hallaj and a prominent Iraqi family with whom Massignon was lodging. As a result, Massignon not only re-committed himself to Catholicism. He projected that experience and his ensuing studies onto Islam as a whole.
"Massignon never forgot that he owed his physical and moral salvation to the hospitality of this Muslim family," Jerry Ryan wrote in 2004 for the National Catholic Reporter. "Through them and his other intercessors, Massignon encountered the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
Statements from Catholic officials reflect Massignon's projection. Popes Francis and John Paul II appealed to what the late pope called, "authentic religious Islam, the praying Islam, the Islam that knows how to join in solidarity with the needy."
The late Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, also ignored Islam's violent tendencies. Keeler served as a specialist in interfaith relations during Vatican II. When National Catholic Reporter in 2005 asked about Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad's public demand for Israel's annihilation, Keeler offered this response:
"I thought, 'This is another politician trying to get an easy solution to a very complicated problem.' I also thought, 'This guy obviously doesn't know what Islam teaches about the relationship to the Jewish people.' The Koran esteems Moses as a lawgiver, and there are many passages that draw upon Hebrew scripture…"
Keeler disregarded numerous verses in the Qur'an and the Hadiths, declarations traditionally attributed to Muhammad, not only calling Jews evil but advocating their murder.
Despite superficial similarities, Islam rejects the doctrines of atonement and redemption that define Christianity and Judaism. Islam also has no concept of a covenant between God and humanity.
Instead, Allah decrees his law "by means of a unilateral pact, in an act of sublime condescension (that) precludes any notion of imitating God as is urged in the Bible," Alain Besancon, another French-Catholic scholar, wrote in Commentary Magazine.
Islam also rejects the Christian doctrines of original sin and the necessity of mediation between God and humanity. In the Koran, Jesus "appears... out of place and out of time, without reference to the landscape of Israel," Besancon wrote.
Most importantly, Judeo-Christian and Muslim concepts of divinity revolve around one irreconcilable difference:
"Although Muslims like to enumerate the 99 names of God, missing from the list, but central to the Jewish and even more so to the Christian conception of God, is 'Father' - i.e., a personal god capable of a reciprocal and loving relation with men," Besancon wrote. "The one God of the Koran, the God Who demands submission is a distant God; to call him 'Father' would be an anthropomorphic sacrilege."
Nevertheless, "an entire literature favorable to Islam has grown up in Europe," Besancon wrote, "much of it the work of Catholic priests under the sway of Massignon’s ideas."
That work also reflects Catholic anxiety over secularism.
"Contributing to the partiality toward Islam is an underlying dissatisfaction with modernity, and with our liberal, capitalist, individualistic arrangements," Besancon wrote. "Alarmed by the ebbing of religious faith in the Christian West, and particularly in Europe, these writers cannot but admire Muslim devoutness.... Surely, they reason, it is better to believe in something than in nothing, and since these Muslims believe in something, they must believe in the same thing we do."
John Paul II embodied that attitude when he forged a de facto alliance with Islam against secularism and materialism. During the United Nations' 1994 conference on population and development in Cairo, the Vatican voted along with Iran, Libya and Sudan to deny funding for health programs that included abortion and contraception.
"For Karol Wojtyla, religious dialogue is necessary in order to foster the common good of humanity," wrote Renzo Guolo, an expert in Islam at the University of Trieste. "This dialogue is sustained by the awareness that there are common values across cultures, because these values are rooted in human nature. These include the defense of the family, opposition to abortion, and peace."
Ultimately, John Paul planned for the alliance to provide an ideological alternative following European Communism’s collapse – which the late pope helped instigate.
"The Church is aware that it can offer a sort of new civil religion to the United States of Europe," wrote Enzo Pace, sociology professor at the University of Padua. "The search for moral unity … represents for the Church a reconfirmation of its central role in history and, at the same time, the opening of a dialogue with other religious cultures of the Old World."
Islam, one of those cultures, would play a pivotal role.
"Islam thus becomes the most important moral interlocutor because the Church sees it as a well-structured religion which is on the increase in contemporary Europe," Pace wrote. "The real object of this consideration of Islam is the social and cultural integration of Muslim groups in the new Europe.
"To ensure this integration, the Catholic Church believes it is necessary to accept the idea of recognizing Islam as a universal religion, while, at the same time, inviting Islam to accept at least the basic moral and juridical principles of the European Christian culture (the rights of man)."
Bishops began following that imperative blindly. John Paul and his highest officials ignored the problems in Arab and Muslim countries while criticizing Western culture. The late pope and his bishops routinely referred to the West's embrace of abortion, contraception and euthanasia as a "culture of death," but never used that term to describe the Muslim embrace of murder for the Greater Glory of Allah.
In November 2002, the late Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston visited a suburban mosque.
"Law removed his shoes," the Boston Globe reported. "Then, as the imam chanted the sunset prayers, the bishop knelt with his forehead just inches from the carpet and offered praise to Allah."
''I feel very much at home with my fellow fundamentalists here," Law said, "who are convinced that God must be at the center of our lives."
Catholic bishops also encourage Muslims to build mosques and even cede Catholic worship space to Muslims. In 2006, the Capuchin Franciscan friars helped the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy build a mosque next to one of its monasteries in Genoa.
Two years later, the Archbishop of Milan defended such cooperation.
"We need places of worship in every neighborhood of the city," Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi said. "People belonging to faiths other than Christianity need them even more urgently, especially Islam. We also need cultural initiatives that promote reflection, not provocation that only creates dead-end debates and sensationalism."
As Catholicism deteriorates across North America and Europe, dioceses sell unused or under-utilized churches and schools to Muslims, who convert them for their own religious use. For example, Catholic officials in Glasgow approved the transformation of St. Albert’s School into an Islamic institution in 2003. Muslims constituted at least 90 percent of the school’s 360 students.
"We are in favor of Muslim schools," an unidentified church spokesman told Edinburgh’s The Scotsman. "We support faith schools across the board. In the case of St. Albert’s, we see a school in which for 95 percent of the children, the festival of Eid has more significance than Christmas or Easter. It is de facto not a Catholic school."
Five years later, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales endorsed providing Muslim prayer rooms and special bathrooms for Muslim cleansing rituals in every Catholic school. According to the bishops' study:
"If practicable, a room (or rooms) might be made available for the use of pupils and staff from other faiths for prayer. Existing toilet facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship. If such space is not available on a permanent or regular basis, extra efforts might be made to address such need for major religious festivals."
Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the time, gave his blessing to similar policies one month before Italy's 2006 general election. A major issue was massive Muslim immigration and the ensuing place for religious education mandated by the Concordat between Italy and the Vatican.
During a press conference, Martino suggested that Muslim students should receive teaching in the Qur'an during the hour mandated for Catholic religious instruction.
"If there are 100 Muslim children in a school, I don't see why they shouldn't be taught their religion," Martino said. "If we said 'no' until we saw equivalent treatment for the Christian minorities in Muslim countries, I would say that we were placing ourselves on their level."
Meanwhile, Belgian bishops have allowed Muslim immigrants to live in churches as part of a campaign to pressure the government to grant them amnesty. Catholic relief agencies provided tents for the squatters, who conducted Muslim worship. Squatters even lit a fire on the floor of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Church in Brussels.
In 1998, Father Herwig Arts told Gazet van Antwerpen how the squatters remodeled Antwerp’s Jesuit chapel:
"(Immigrants) removed the tabernacle, (and) installed a television set and radios, depriving us of the opportunity to pray in our own chapel and say Mass. It has upset me very much. For me, the place has been desecrated. I feel I cannot enter it anymore."
But as The Brussels Journal reported in 2006, "Father Arts was severely criticized for his comments. Today he remains silent, as do all Catholic priests."
When Pope Benedict XVI issued a subtle yet powerful challenge to Islam in 2006 while visiting the German town of Regensburg, his remarks infuriated the sitting archbishop of Buenos Aires – the future Pope Francis.
"These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last 20 years," said Bergoglio, who added that Benedict's remarks "don't reflect my own opinions."
As pope, Francis owns the ultimate Catholic platform for his opinions. Many Western bishops embrace those opinions, especially on Muslim immigration, while disregarding the plight of Christians facing Muslim persecution.
In 2015, Francis called for Catholic churches, seminaries, monasteries, convents, schools and families in Europe to house at least one family of Syrian refugees, who are overwhelmingly Muslim. But never during his papacy has Francis issued a similar call to protect Christians from Muslim lands.
Moreover, Francis follows John Paul's approach toward Islam. Bishops remembered how the late pope, "who ordinarily speaks about all topics," Guozo wrote, "had spread a veil of silence over the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries."
Meanwhile, Christians in the Muslim world suffer. An Arab convert named Nura told Milan's Corriere della Sera in 2002:
"We feel abandoned. After our conversion, we have no one to support us. We ask the Church and Italy: Protect us, defend us."
Instead of providing an ideological alternative embodying Catholic values, what Besancon called the Church's "indulgent ecumenism" has sabotaged Catholic credibility. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist and atheist, blamed that indulgent ecumenism for Europe's disintegration in her final book, The Force of Reason:
"This Catholic Church...gets on so well with Islam because not few of its priests and prelates are the first collaborators of Islam. The first traitors. This Catholic Church, without whose imprimatur the Euro-Arab dialogue could neither have begun nor gone ahead for 30 years. This Catholic Church without which the Islamization of Europe, the degeneration of Europe in Eurabia, could never have developed. This Catholic Church...remains silent even when the crucifix gets insulted derided, expelled from the hospitals. This Catholic Church...never roars against (Muslims') polygamy and wife-repudiation and slavery...."
Three decades after John Paul took a Churchillian stand against Communism, Catholicism embraces his Chamberlain-esque approach to Islam. As a result, for the second time in 80 years, Europe is ill-prepared against an existential threat.