Twelve days after the College of Cardinals elected Pope Francis in 2013, a prominent journalist and member of the European Parliament announced he would leave the Catholic Church five years after converting from Islam.
Magdi Allam—a dedicated critic of Muslim extremism and an Egyptian immigrant whom Pope Benedict XVI personally baptized in 2008—wrote he would leave Catholicism because "this church is too weak against Islam."
For practically his entire pontificate, Francis has emphasized dialogue with Islam over challenging its leaders and forcefully defending the innocent—including Middle Eastern and African Christians facing persecution. The pope reached the nadir of fecklessness after Muslim terrorists murdered 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian magazine that published satirical cartoons of Muhammad. After saying "we cannot offend, make war, kill ... in the name of God," Francis made these breathtaking comments:
"It is true that one should not react violently but if Mr. Gasbarri, who is a great friend, says a swear word about my mother, he can expect to receive a punch! It's normal."
"There are so many people who speak ill of religions, who mock them...and it can happen that which could happen to Mr. Gasbarri if he said anything about my mother."
"Mr. Gasbarri" is Alberto Gasbarri, who organizes papal trips.
Soon afterward, Muslim protesters in London quoted Francis in placards while gathered in front of Prime Minister David Cameron's residence, 10 Downing Street.
Francis' attitude reflects half a century of what Catholic historian Alain Besancon called his church's "indulgent ecumenism" regarding Islam. As a result, the Catholic Church—under the Vatican's leadership—embraces an attitude of appeasement that destroys its moral credibility.
The roots of such appeasement start in the encyclical Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), published in 1965 at the end of the Second Vatican Council, organized to help the Catholic Church relate to the modern world. The document on inter-religious relations focuses primarily on the church's repudiation of anti-Semitism, yet included is a passage addressing Islam:
"The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. ... (T)his sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."
The ideas of Catholic scholar Louis Massignon influenced Nostra Aetate heavily. Massignon popularized the idea of the Koran as a kindred form of revelation, thereby putting Muslims among Abraham's spiritual children.
"An entire literature favorable to Islam has grown up in Europe," Besancon wrote in 2004, "much of it the work of Catholic priests under the sway of Massignon's ideas."
Those priests' work also reflects Catholic anxiety over increasing secularism.
"Contributing to the partiality toward Islam is an underlying dissatisfaction with modernity, and with our liberal, capitalist, individualistic arrangements," Besancon wrote. "Alarmed by the ebbing of religious faith in the Christian West, and particularly in Europe, these writers cannot but admire Muslim devoutness.... Surely, they reason, it is better to believe in something than in nothing, and since these Muslims believe in something, they must believe in the same thing we do."
As a result, the idea that Allah is no different from Yahweh permeates popular conventional wisdom among Catholics.
Pope John Paul II aggressively implemented Nostra Aetate's mandate by forging a de facto alliance with Islam against secularism and materialism. For example, during the United Nations' 1994 conference on population and development in Cairo, he Vatican voted along with Iran, Libya and Sudan—three of the world's most repressive regimes—to deny funding for health programs involving abortion and contraception.
Renzo Guolo, a specialist in Muslim fundamentalism at the University of Trieste, wrote in 2003 that for John Paul II, "religious dialogue is necessary to foster the common good of humanity. This dialogue is sustained by the awareness (of) common values across cultures, because these values are rooted in human nature. He seems to believe that only the prophetic message, the utopian perspective, the mystical leap powered by an intense spirituality, can achieve this objective."
As is their wont, Catholic bishops blindly followed the papal imperative. One day before the first anniversary of 9/11, Cardinal Paul Poupard,, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture said the following:
"Many of the so-called values of present Western civilization are anything but values; the destruction of the family, the exaltation of homosexuality, the spread of pornography, growing immorality, abortion, gratuitous violence, the exclusion of God in the edification of society stir contempt and hatred for decadent Western society in other civilizations."
Given their timing, Poupard's remarks should be seen as latent collaboration with Muslim terrorists who make similar arguments.
In 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston visited a suburban mosque.
“Law removed his shoes," the Boston Globe reported on Nov. 25, 2002. "Then, as the imam chanted the sunset prayers, the bishop knelt with his forehead just inches from the carpet and offered praise to Allah.”
''I feel very much at home with my fellow fundamentalists here,” Law said, “who are convinced that God must be at the center of our lives.”
Catholic bishops even cede worship space to Muslims. As Catholicism deteriorates across North American and Europe, dioceses sell unused or under-utilized churches and schools to Muslims, who convert them for their own religious use. In 2003, Catholic officials in Glasgow approved the transformation of St. Albert’s School into an Islamic institution. Muslims constituted at least 90 percent of the school’s 360 students.
“We are in favor of Muslim schools,” an unidentified church spokesman told Edinburgh’s The Scotsman. “We support faith schools across the board. In the case of St. Albert’s, we see a school in which for 95 percent of the children, the festival of Eid has more significance than Christmas or Easter. It is de facto not a Catholic school.”
Since the late 1990s, Belgian bishops even have allowed Muslim immigrants to live in their churches to pressure the government to grant them amnesty. Catholic relief agencies provided tents for the squatters, who conducted Muslim worship. Squatters even lit a fire on the floor of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Church in Brussels.
In 1998, Father Herwig Arts told Gazet van Antwerpen how the squatters remodeled Antwerp’s Jesuit chapel:
“(Immigrants) removed the tabernacle, (and) installed a television set and radios, depriving us of the opportunity to pray in our own chapel and say Mass. It has upset me very much. For me, the place has been desecrated. I feel I cannot enter it anymore.”
But as The Brussels Journal reported in 2006, “Father Arts was severely criticized for his comments. Today he remains silent, as do all Catholic priests.”
Also in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI issued a subtle yet powerful challenge to Islam in his address while visiting Regensburg Germany. Benedict's remarks infuriated the sitting archbishop of Buenos Aires—the future Pope Francis.
"These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last 20 years," said Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who added that Benedict's remarks "don't reflect my own opinions."
In September, Francis called for Catholic churches, seminaries, monasteries, convents, schools and families in Europe to house at least one family of Syrian refugees, who are overwhelmingly Muslim. But never during his papacy has Francis issued a similar call to protect Christians from Muslim lands.
Moreover, Francis follows John Paul's approach toward Islam. Bishops remembered how the late pope, "who ordinarily speaks about all topics," Guozo wrote in 2003, "had spread a veil of silence over the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries."
"We feel abandoned. After our conversion, we have no one to support us. We ask the Church and Italy: Protect us, defend us."
Since the fall of the Roman Empire, Catholicism played a vital role in building Western civilization. But because of its excessive deference toward Islam, Catholicism now cannot be relied upon to defend its own adherents, let alone Western civilization. When it comes to Islam, Catholic leaders make perfect dhimmis.
Joseph D’Hippolito is a free-lance writer who has written commentaries on Catholicism and Islam for Front Page Magazine and the Jerusalem Post.