Vatican dismisses bin Laden's charges of pope's anti-Islam campaign

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican spokesman dismissed Osama bin Laden's accusations of an anti-Islam campaign by Pope Benedict XVI, noting the pope's efforts to dialogue with Muslims.

Bin Laden, citing the controversy over cartoons ridiculing the prophet Mohammed, said the pope was part of a "new crusade" against Islam.

"The content of the accusations makes no sense," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service March 20.

"But these kinds of allegations are not new," Father Lombardi added. The Vatican responded to similar accusations by al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, last December.

The Vatican spokesman said it was not surprising for bin Laden to name the pope among his many "perceived enemies," but said the more moderate Muslim world knows the pope's commitment to good interreligious relations.

Father Lombardi pointed out that the pope, responding to a letter from 138 Muslim leaders, had recently opened a new channel of dialogue with Islam and scheduled a major Catholic-Muslim meeting in Rome this fall.

Bin Laden's five-minute audio message was posted on a militant Web site March 19. The al-Qaida leader also threatened Europe with punishment for publishing the cartoons.

Bin Laden said in the message, "The response will be what you see and not what you hear and let our mothers bereave us if we do not make victorious our messenger of God," reported The Associated Press.

In mid-February a Danish newspaper reprinted cartoons that many Muslims found offensive and that sparked outrage and protests in late 2005 and 2006.

When controversy first erupted, the Vatican criticized the cartoons, saying freedom of expression does not mean freedom to ridicule religious beliefs.

It also criticized the violent reactions of some Muslims to the cartoons.

Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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