Canadian Liberal Catholic Michael Higgins Accuses Pope of having “goofed bigtime”

Says Pope lacked either intelligence or moral awareness to avoid offending Muslims
Mon Sep 25, 2006 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

TORONTO, September 25, 2006 ( – A prominent Canadian liberal Catholic has publicly offered his explanation that Pope Benedict XVI lacked either the intelligence or the moral awareness to avoid offending Muslims in his Regensberg Germany speech two weeks ago.

Michael Higgins, president of New Brunswick’s St. Thomas University and a regular columnist in Canada’s leading Catholic newspaper, the Catholic Register, told Maclean’s Magazine that the Pope had made a political blunder that resulted in threats against the Pope’s life, the harassment of priests, the burning of Churches and the murder of a missionary nun in Muslim Somalia. McLeans reports that in Higgins’ opinion, “the only possible answer” to the question of why the Pope said what he did in Regensberg is, “gross stupidity”

Higgins’ holds a prominent position as a leader within Canada’s left-leaning “liberal” academic elite which Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has criticized for decades. Before his appointment as president of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, Higgins was President and Vice-Chancellor of St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo, a school notorious for its promotion of a secularized, dissident Catholicism that has dominated Canadian Church institutions for decades.

Referring to the diplomatic “inexperience” of newly appointed Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Higgins told Maclean’s that the change of regime in Benedict’s curia was at fault. “I have to believe that if an experienced cardinal had seen this address, the reference would never have gone through,” Higgins said.

One of the Catholic officials who used to inspect Papal speeches with references to Islam, was Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the recently deposed head of the Vatican office of Interreligious Dialogue. Most Vatican observers noted Fitzgerald’s appointment as the Vatican representative in Egypt as one of Benedict’s first Papal actions, and called it an “exile” as a correction for his too- indulgent approach to radical elements in Islam.

Early changes in Benedict’s direction have been to take a stronger stand against the oppression of Christian populations in Islamic countries, especially in the Holy Land. The past relationship of the Vatican with some Islamic groups considered extreme by many in the diplomatic community, has come to an end and the powers of the Interreligious dialogue office have been greatly reduced.

This shift in diplomatic relations, say Vatican watchers, is intended to shore up the rapidly disappearing Christian communities in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other heavily Islamic states. However, the change has angered many in the liberal wing of the Church who hold “dialogue and tolerance” at any cost as a first principle.

Maclean’s writer Brian Bethune and Higgins, however, go even further, writing that the Pope lacks “even a child’s grasp of basic Christian ethics,” for having dared to risk the wrath of Islamic extremists in his address. Quoting the gospel of St. Matthew, Higgins and Bethune insist that the Pope would only have had the right to criticize the excesses of Islamic fundamentalism, if he had begun with mea culpa’s for the “violence in his own tradition.”

A common theme among liberal critics of Benedict’s speech was also echoed by Higgins whose opinion was paraphrased by Maclean’s as: “Even Benedict himself may not have realized, Higgins generously allows, that as Pope he no longer gets to make airy theological speculations.”ÂA number of editorials from left-leaning news magazines around the world have taken up the theme implying that as an ivory tower academic, Benedict is unable to grasp the political realities of being Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI, however, has spent an almost unrivalled period of time in the closest possible association with the highest levels of international politics and Vatican diplomacy. As Joseph Ratzinger, he spent decades as one of the world’s most respected theologians, was a “peritus” or theological advisor at the Second Vatican Council and is adept at Papal audiences at giving extraordinary off-the-cuff theological and political commentary in a number of languages other than his first.

The response from Higgins and many other prominent liberal Catholics in the press since the speech, may be explicable by Benedict’s emphasis at Regensberg – an address identified by Vatican officials as a ‘defining’ moment in his pontificate – on the dangers posed to freedom by the secularization of society and the de-Christianization of the west.

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