We all know the difference between being sorry for what one said and being sorry that others were offended by what one said. The first is an expression of genuine contrition, while the second clearly isn't. And the Pope's "apology" with respect to his recent remarks that offended many of the world's Muslims falls into the second category.
Coincidentally, the readings from last week's revised common lectionary included the following text from James 3:1-12:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue--a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.Wow, could the timing of this lectionary reading have been more appropriate?
Interestingly enough, the Pope's apparent hostility towards Islam may have a long history, which did not begin with his recent remarks. According to a column published last January in the Washington Times, the a friend of the Pope, Father Joseph D. Fessio, reported in a radio interview that the Pope held strongly negative views on Islam. (One of the pope's alleged assertions was that Islam is inherently incompatible with democracy, a strange complaint to come from the leader and former chief inquisitor of an authoritarian religious institution that has operated a top-down hierarchy and that has suppressed free inquiry and stifled the theological expression of dissidents.) The Washington Times columnist considered this at the time to be a "bombshell" that "has yet to explode because no one wants to touch it." It would seem that the bombshell has finally exploded.