BY ANNA ARCO
BENEDICT XvI'S private secretary said Catholics should face up to "attempts at Islamisation of the West" in a rare interview last week.
Mgr Georg Gan.swein, who is seldom seen far from Pope Benedict's side, spoke about Islam, the Church and being private secretary to the Pontiff in an interview with the journalist Peter Seewald in the Munich-based Siiddeutsche Zeitung.
Mgr Ganswein said the attempted Islamisation of the West was an undeniable fact, which endangered Europe's identity. A false sense of tolerance should not lull Europeans into ignoring the danger, he said.
"The truth is that a continent like Europe cannot live if one cuts away its Christian roots, because then one takes its soul," Mgr Ganswein said.
He said that the Pope's address in Regensburg last September, which provoked violent Muslim reactions and a media whirlwind, was supposed to address the naiveté regarding the dangers facing Europe's identity. After calling the speech "prophetic", he said that the Pope's remarks about Islam had been taken out of context by the media, which presented a controversial quotation from the writings of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus equating Islam with violence as Benedict XVI's personal opinion.
The Pope was shocked by the hostility of the reactions to the lecture, Mgr Ganswein said.
When Mr Seewald asked whether it was not naive to expect interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Catholics, Mgr Ganswein said that the Holy See was working at dialogue on an institutional level, with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, but that it was important to remember Islam was a blanket. term for disparate religious currents.
"It is important to realise that Islam does not exist as a united binding entity which speaks with one voice to all Muslims," he said.
"The term includes a multitude of different currents, ranging from some that are inimical to each other, to extremists who act in the name of the Koran and set about their work with guns. The Holy See is attempting to take up contact and hold talks on an institutional level through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue."
Earlier in the interview, Mgr Ganswein identified the challenges facing the Church and the changes that Benedict XVI's papacy could effect. He counted the struggle with relativism, the dialogue with Islam and strengthening of the Church's own identity among the challenges and said that the papacy could strengthen faith and the sense that Catholicism was a gift from God.
He also said that re-establishing unity between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church was "certainly one of the great goals of the theologian-Pope".
Mgr Ganswein has been Cardinal Ratzinger's private secretary since 2003 but had worked closely with him before then. In 1996 Cardinal Ratzinger asked him to join the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in 2000 he became chaplain to Pope John Paul II. As secretary his duties include organising the Pope's time, sorting his correspondence and presenting him with documents. He hails from the Pope's native Germany and is one of five children.
Don Georgio, or the Black Forest Adonis, as he was once irreverently called, is a priestly pin-up in Italy because of his athletic good looks. He skis, flies aeroplanes and plays tennis, but also holds a doctorate in canon law from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and is a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
His interviewer, Peter Seewald, interviewed Pope Benedict XVI for the books Salt of the Earth and God and the World.