The inauguration of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI has brought to the fore a host of issues, which threaten to undermine his papacy. Chief amongst them is the competition from Islam and the secularisation of Christians in Europe.
The Vatican is somewhat divided on how to tackle Islam. Some cardinals are in the favour of reaching out to moderate Muslims and tapering the Vatican’s attitudes towards Islam. “The next pope will need to be someone capable of dialoguing with the different religions of the world, and particularly Islam… Islam is on the rise, and Christianity, at least in the developed world, is in decline “, said the Rev. Keith F. Pecklers, a Jesuit professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. This approach is reminiscent of the one articulated by pope John Paul II who in 1986 became the first pope to visit a Muslim country. During the visit to Morocco he said, “We believe in the same God, the one and the only God, who created the world and brought its creatures to perfection.” Hence the doctrine of inter-faith dialogue with Islam was born. For the next twenty years this doctrine defined the relations between the Vatican and the Islamic world.
Other cardinals prefer a much tougher stance towards Islam. John Allen, the Vatican correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, is sceptical that there is such a thing as moderate Islam. “They [cardinals] think what is needed is tough love. The nightmare scenario is that one day we’ll wake up and the Holy Land will be empty of Christians”, Allen said. The views expressed by this group appear to be in unison with Pope Benedict XVI, who not so long ago scoffed at the idea of Turkey joining Christian Europe. Last August, Ratzinger said, “In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe. Making the two continents identical would be a mistake.” Back in November 2004, Ratzinger criticised Muslims for politicising Islam and stressed that Muslims had a great deal to learn from Christianity. Ratzinger said, “Muslims should learn from the Christian culture the importance of religious freedom, and the separation between church and state.”
In the real world, the challenges posed by Islam are not only overstated by the Vatican, but are miniscule in comparison to the influence of secularism on the world’s billion or so Catholics. A far greater threat is the secularisation of Catholics in Europe, which is significantly higher than any other continent. Only 21 percent of Europeans say that religion is "very important" to them, according to the European Values Study, conducted in 1999 and 2000 and published two years ago. A similar survey in the United States by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put the number at nearly 60 percent. Beyond that, attendance at Mass has significantly declined throughout Europe. Among Catholics, only 10 percent in the Netherlands, 12 percent in France, 15 percent in Germany and Austria, 18 percent in Spain and 25 percent in Italy attend Mass weekly. Therefore it is not surprising to find some Catholics voicing extreme concerns for the future of Christianity in a secular Europe. “Some people look at Europe and see it spiritually tired, if not dead,” said the Rev. John Wauck, who teaches at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Apart from the dwindling Christian population in Europe, the principal threat to the Vatican comes from the direction of secular fundamentalists who are adamant in recasting catholic truths as falsehoods. Catholic teachings regarding the inauguration of women priests, birth control, abortion, gay marriages, adoption by same-sex couples, euthanasia and the commercialisation of Christmas bear the brunt of this onslaught. Commenting on this trend, Wauck said that the union (European Union) seems to be “infected” with a “radically secular culture”. Ratzinger delivered similar assessment hours before the conclave got underway to elect the new pope. He said, “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism . . . that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one’s own ego and one’s own desires as the final measure.”
Now that Ratzinger has been officially installed as the new pope he must decide on how best to protect Catholicism and its values. His immediate concern and those of the cardinals who elected him is to win over those who have shunned Catholicism in preference for an agnostic life-style. To accomplish this feat, Pope Benedict XVI cannot ally himself with the secular powers of the world or rely on any of the world’s secular institutions to defend the Christian faith.
Secularism and its practitioners despite being a by-product of Judaeo-Christian history are not interested in defending Christianity or for that matter any faith. For instance, in May 2002 President Bush did nothing to prevent Israel from shelling the Church of Nativity, despite strong appeals from Pope John Paul II and leaders of other Christian sects. Similarly, before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, President Bush refused to meet evangelical Christians who were opposed to the war, but continued to entertain lobbyist from oil companies.
Religion and people who profess religious beliefs is an anathema to secularist fundamentalists and are barely tolerated. The people of faith who wish to retain their religious identity become the object of abuse within secular societies. Secular authorities utilise instruments such as the media and the political medium to constantly hound those that resist secular values. This continues until they capitulate or change their beliefs to conform to the materialistic worldview of the secularists.
Catholicism as well as other Christian faiths has suffered immensely under the patronage of secular western states, particularly European states. Retreating behind the veil of ‘freedom of speech’, and ‘freedom of religion’, secularists have relentlessly abused Catholicism and forced the Roman Church to adapt its views and practices. Today, Catholic teachings and truths are scarcely recognisable and face imminent extinction, unless the Vatican takes a firm stand against the secular powers.
Forming an alliance with other world faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and other Christian denominations will not alter the fate of the Roman Church. These religions are unable to stand up to the menacing ideology of secularism and they too have fallen prey to the secular powers. This is because of two reasons. First, they are all founded on an emotional creed that does not possess the intellectual dynamism to challenge the ideology of secularism. Second, they are based on creeds that only offer a spiritual perspective on human existence and are unable to present a social-political system of life that is a real alternative to secularism.
Islam is the sole ideology in the world that is able to counter secularism and offer genuine protection to people belonging to different faiths. Islam is able to achieve this, because at its heart is a spiritual and political creed that provides spiritual nourishment to its adherents and offers a comprehensive social-political system, where Muslims and non-Muslims are treated equally before the law.
In the past, when Islam was implemented practically -for instance in Islamic Spain- Jews, Christians and Muslims living in the Spanish cities of Toledo, Cordoba and Granada, enjoyed unrivalled tolerance and prosperity. Martin Hume wrote in his book “Spanish People”: “Side by side with the new rulers lived the Christians and Jews in peace. The latter rich with commerce and industry were content to let the memory of their oppression by the priest-ridden Goths sleep”. However, when the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand took charge of Spain in 1492, they did not reciprocate tolerance but proceeded to expunge Spain of its Jewish and Muslim populace. Similar acts of cruelty with the blessing of the Pope were carried out in other lands controlled by Muslims such as the island of Sicily and Jerusalem.
Today the Islamic world is experiencing a radical transformation from secularism to Islam. Muslims across the Islamic world are rebelling against the secular order that has been forcibly imposed upon them by western powers and their surrogates. Muslims are working day and night to over throw these secular autocracies and to re-establish the Caliphate on their ruins. With the establishment of the Caliphate, millions of Christians who were previously denied their rights under the secular regimes will have their rights restated in full. And like in the Caliphates of the past, Christian beliefs and teaching will be protected. History bears witness that unlike the Roman Empire and the secular order of today, Christian doctrines and teachings were not changed under the Caliphate to agree with Islamic values.
Against this background it would be wise for Pope Benedict XVI to reconsider his position towards Islam and the Muslim world. Instead of opting for a harsh stance against Islam and Muslims, the new pope should support the right of Muslims across the Islamic world to overthrow their secular regimes and re-establish the Caliphate. In this way, the pope will be saving Catholicism, protecting the rights of his flock in the Muslim world and sending a good omen for future relations with the Caliphate.