Pope Benedict XVI "sincerely regrets" that Muslims have been offended by some of his comments in a recent speech in Germany, the Vatican said Saturday.
The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that the church regards Muslims with "esteem." Thus, the pope "sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions," Bertone said in a statement.
"Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervor of Muslim believers, warned secularized Western culture to guard against 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom,'" Bertone said, according to the AP.
"In reiterating his respect and esteem for those who profess Islam, he hopes that they will be helped to understand the correct meaning of his words," the cardinal said.
The words, in a speech Benedict gave to university professors a few days ago, angered many in the Islamic world and raised doubts over whether a planned trip to Turkey in late November would go ahead.
Benedict on Tuesday cited an obscure Medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman." When giving the speech, the pope said that he was quoting the words of a Byzantine emperor and did not comment directly on the "evil and inhuman" assessment.
Bertone on Saturday said "the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way."
The cardinal pointed out that the pope was speaking in an academic setting and suggested that a "complete and attentive reading" of the entire text would make clear the pope's reflections about the relationship between religion and violence in general.