Nun shot dead as apology by Pope fails to quell the violence
Key quote "At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg" - Pope Benedict XVI
Story in full POPE Benedict XVI attempted to dampen Islamic fury over his controversial speech yesterday by stating that he was "deeply sorry" about the angry reaction. But he stopped short of making a full apology.
As the worst Vatican crisis in decades deepened with the news that an Italian nun had been shot dead in Somalia and that more churches had been torched in the West Bank, the Pope attempted to draw a line under the affair by expressing regret.
The pontiff's attempt to defuse the situation came as news broke that an Italian Catholic nun was shot dead in a children's hospital in Mogadishu. A senior Somalian Islamist said: "There is a very high possibility the people who killed her were angered by the Catholic Pope's recent comments against Islam."
The nun, in her mid-sixties, identified as Sister Leonella Sgorbati, was shot dead with her bodyguard by two gunmen at the hospital for mothers and children in northern Mogadishu.
The bodyguard died instantly, but the nun, from the Missionaries of the Consolation order based in Nepi near Rome, was rushed into an operating theatre after being hit by three or four bullets in the chest, stomach and back.
"She died in the hospital treatment room," a doctor, Ali Mohamed Hassan, said. "She was shot outside the hospital, going to her house just across the gate."
Islamic security chiefs said two people had been arrested over the shootings.
In a public statement, made during the Angelus, his traditional Sunday address, the Pope distanced himself from the medieval quote he had used last week in which the Prophet Muhammad was said to have brought only "evil and inhuman" things "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
Speaking from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer retreat, Benedict XVI stressed that the words of Manuel Paleologos II, a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor, did not reflect his own personal opinion.
The head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics said: "At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims...These [words] were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought."
The Pope noted that the Vatican secretary of state on Saturday had issued a statement trying to explain his words, which he delivered last Tuesday in a speech during a pilgrimage to his native Germany.
He added: "I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."
Last night, however, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt demanded a "clear apology". Mohammed Habib, the movement's deputy leader, said: "It does not rise to the level of a clear apology and, based on this, we're calling on the Pope of the Vatican to issue a clear apology that will decisively end any confusion."
Mr Habib had earlier described the Pope's remarks as a "sufficient apology".
Yesterday, Mehmet Aydin, a Turkish state minister, said the Pope seemed to be saying he was sorry for the outrage but not necessarily the remarks themselves. He said: "You either have to say this 'I'm sorry' in a proper way or not say it at all. Are you sorry for saying such a thing or because of its consequences?"
The uproar had raised question marks about whether a papal visit to Turkey in November could go ahead, but the Turkish government, while calling his remarks "ugly", said there were no plans to call it off.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, also entered the debate yesterday when he urged world religious leaders to show "responsibility and restraint" - a reference to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Islam and the ensuing anger among Muslims.
Mr Putin went on to say that he hoped that "the leaders of the main world faiths will have sufficient strength and wisdom to avoid any extremes in relations between faiths".
In Palestine yesterday, more churches in the occupied West Bank were attacked in reaction to the speech. The attacks followed similar incidents on Friday and Saturday and caused minor damage but no injuries. In the town of Tubas outside Jenin, a group of Palestinians set fire to a Roman Catholic church, causing minor damage before the flames were put out.
A Roman Catholic church in the town of Tulkarm also sustained damage in a fire. Witnesses said they saw a man set the fire in the early morning. However, no-one claimed responsibility for either of the attacks.
In an attempt to calm concerns in the Muslim world, the Vatican announced that the papal nuncios - ambassadors - to Muslim nations had been issued with translation of the speech and would be addressing the matter with political leaders. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, said: "We have asked our nuncios in Muslim countries to take the Pope's message and explain his declarations to the political and religious authorities. They will give a clarification of the Pope's words and extinguish the flames of misunderstanding."
Senior officials inside the Catholic Church were debating that the current crisis could have been averted if Pope Benedict had not demoted Britain's most senior figure in the Vatican. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, from Birmingham, had been head of "inter- religious dialogue" at the Vatican since 2002 and was the Pope's top expert on Islamic affairs.
However, in February Pope Benedict made him a papal nuncio in Cairo.
Yesterday a Vatican diplomat said: "Michael, or Fitz, as we know him, is an expert on Muslim affairs and this would not have happened if he had still been around.
"He would have known that saying something like this would have been a red rag to a bull but for some reason the Pope got rid of him and it was the worst mistake he made."
Father Thomas Reese, author of Inside the Vatican, said shortly after Archbishop Fitzgerald was demoted: "The Pope's worst decision so far has been the exiling of Archbishop Fitzgerald. He was the smartest guy in the Vatican on relations with Muslims. You don't exile someone like that, you listen to them."
Last night, when contacted in Lourdes, where he is attending a conference, Archbishop Fitzgerald said: "I have been away and not really followed all this so it would not be fair for me to comment.
"I hope that Pope Benedict's apology smoothes things over in the Muslim world - other than that I have nothing to say."
Professor Giuseppe Alberigo, of the Institute of Religious Science in Bologna, said it was the first time a Pope had said sorry, and compared Benedict XVI to John Paul II.
He said: "It is the first time that a Pope has apologised and tried to appease criticism for something he has said.
"Certain themes should be spoken about more prudently as the Crusades have never been forgotten. Pope John Paul II would never have said anything similar."
• Sister Leonella was working as part of SOS Children's Villages' work in Somalia.
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