Remember when word came down from the Vatican that Pope John Paul II had watched Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and liked it? The anonymously sourced story sparked a media firestorm around the globe as reporters sought confirmation of the papal equivalent of two thumbs up. "It is as it was," we later learned the pope supposedly said. Which sounded like the perfect biblical movie blurb; but did the pontiff actually utter the words?
After some non-clarifying retractions from the Vatican, it was ultimately hard to say for sure -- although not for journalistic want of trying. This natural curiosity stands in striking contrast to the media silence that has met a far more sensational, far more significant report of papal opinion: namely, that Pope Benedict XVI is said to believe that Islam is incapable of reform.
This bombshell dropped out of an early January interview conducted by radio host Hugh Hewitt with the Rev. Joseph D. Fessio, SJ, a friend and former student of the pope. The Rev. Fessio recounted the pope's words on the key problem facing Islamic reform this way: "In the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Muhammad, but it's an eternal word. It's not Muhammad's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it." Fessio continued, elaborating not on how many ratings stars the pope thinks some biopic should get, but rather on the pope's theological assessment of a historically warring religion with a billion-plus followers, some notorious number of whom are now at war with the West. According to his friend, the pope believes there's no way to change Islam because there's no way to reinterpret the Koran -- i.e., change Koranic teachings on infidels, women, polygamy, penal codes and other markers of Islamic law -- in such a way as to propel Islam into happy coexistence with modernity.