(RNS) Pope Francis is once again making headlines for comments declaring, as he has before, that Islam is not “terroristic” and that all religions, including Catholicism, have “fundamentalist” splinter groups that can commit violence.
The pontiff made his comments during a flight back to Rome on Sunday (July 31) from Poland, where he was presiding over the church’s triennial World Youth Day festival.
Asked about the brutal slaying of an elderly priest in France who was killed by two Muslim teens while he was saying Mass, Francis said “the world is at war” but it is not a war of religion.
“Some might think it is war of religion. It is not. All religions want peace. Others want war,” the pope said.
The pontiff drew both praise and condemnation for his remarks. Among his critics, the Rev. Franklin Graham.
“I agree that the world is at war — but I disagree that it’s not a war of religion,” Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “It is most certainly a war of religion.”
“Religion is behind the violence and jihad we’re seeing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and here in this country. It’s a religion that calls for the extermination of ‘infidels’ outside their faith, specifically Jews and Christians. It’s a religion that calls on its soldiers to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Great’ in Arabic) as they behead, rape, and murder in the name of Islam. Radical Islamists are following the teachings of the Quran. We should call it what it is.”
Graham has long been a sharp critic of Islam, having called for a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the U.S. even before Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump adopted that position. Graham also backed Wheaton College’s efforts to fire a professor for suggesting that Muslims worshiped the same God as Christians.
And Francis’ views are not endorsed by everyone in his own church, or even the Catholic hierarchy.
U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former Vatican official who is based in Rome, told RNS last month that Islam “wants to govern the world” and Americans must decide if they are going to reassert “the Christian origin of our own nation” in order to avoid submission to Muslim rule.