Aide: Bin Laden's Pope Reference Nothing New or Surprising

Father Lombardi Calls Terrorist's Accusation "Baseless"

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican spokesman said accusations from Osama bin Laden claiming that Benedict XVI is part of an anti-Islam crusade are entirely baseless.



Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, in declarations to the press, responded to the latest statements from the al-Qaida leader.

An audiotaped message from Bin Laden, posted Wednesday on a militant Web site, threatened a new "severe" attack against Europe in response to cartoons of the prophet Mohammed originally published in Danish newspapers in 2005, and republished by several European newspapers in 2006.

Danish newspapers republished one of the cartoons last Feb. 13, which shows Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

Bin Laden called the cartoons part of a "new Crusade" against Islam, in which "the Pope of the Vatican has played a large, lengthy role."

Father Lombardi classified as "totally baseless the specific accusation of any involvement" of the Holy Father in a supposed campaign of this type. The Vatican spokesman told the press that threats from bin Laden against the bishop of Rome "are not a novelty and are not surprising."

"The Pope and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue have criticized the satirical campaign with Islam on more than one occasion," he affirmed.

Respect

In the midst of the initial controversy surrounding the cartoons, Benedict XVI said on Feb. 20, 2006: "In the international context we are living at present, the Catholic Church continues convinced that, to foster peace and understanding between peoples and men, it is necessary and urgent that religions and their symbols be respected."

The Holy Father added on that occasion that this implies that "believers not be the object of provocations that wound their lives and religious sentiments."

At the same time, Benedict XVI made it clear that "intolerance and violence can never be justified as response to offenses, as they are not compatible responses with the sacred principles of religion."

His 2006 comments came in an address to Ali Achour, then Morocco's new ambassador to the Holy See.

This March 5, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue announced at the conclusion of a two-day meeting with Muslim scholars in the Vatican the establishment of a Catholic-Muslim Forum.

The Vatican meeting came as a development following a response from Benedict XVI to a group of 138 Muslim scholars who wrote the Pope and other Christian leaders last Oct. 11.