WASHINGTON – Shortly before the pastor of a small Florida Pentecostal church appeared to back down from plans to burn the Quran on Sept. 11, the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in condemnation of any acts of religious intolerance.
“All acts of intolerance aimed at a religious community should find no place in our world, let alone in our nation which is founded on the principle of religious freedom,” said a statement issued Sept. 9 by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta and Bishops William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y.
The three chair the USCCB committees on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Domestic Justice and Human Development; and International Justice and Peace, respectively.
The Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., announced late Sept. 9 that he had called off plans for the Quran burning after he was promised that the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero in New York would be moved. Because Muslim leaders said no such promise was made, it was unclear Sept. 10 whether the Quran burning would take place the next day.
The USCCB leaders also endorsed a statement on the proposed Quran burning issued Sept. 8 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican and voiced solidarity with a group of interfaith leaders who met in Washington Sept. 7 “to denounce categorically derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community.”
The Dove World Outreach Center’s plan to publicly burn copies of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, on Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of terrorist attacks on the United States at the hands of Islamic extremists, had been widely condemned by religious leaders worldwide and by U.S. military leaders, who said the action would put troops in Afghanistan in harm’s way.
In the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., where Gainesville is located, Bishop Victor B. Galeone wrote in a letter to the editor of the Gainesville Sun that Catholics should consider the plan by Dove center members “reprehensible.”
“The burning of another faith tradition’s sacred texts is diametrically opposed to the Catholic Church’s ongoing commitment to improving interreligious relations,” he said. “Furthermore, it represents a counter-witness to the Gospel message by engendering fear and hatred rather than the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said he hoped the Florida church’s “isolated and reprehensible threat” to burn the Quran “will not derail any possible future engagement between Muslims and Christians.”
“If such a desecration does take place despite efforts of religious leaders and others to dissuade the proponent of this shameful deed, we pray that cooler heads will prevail and the reprehensible action of an unrepresentative few will not result in equally reprehensible retaliatory acts of violence,” he added in a Sept. 9 statement.
Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson, Miss., also criticized the “deeply unfortunate rise in anti-Islamic voices and actions throughout our country” and said the Sept. 11 anniversary “should be marked with prayers and actions of peace, not voices of hate and division.”
“The destruction of a copy of the (Quran) is an affront to all people of faith, and to society as a whole,” he added in a Sept. 8 statement. “It is also an affront to the Gospel message to love our neighbor as ourselves and in direct opposition to our church’s efforts to build bridges of understanding and bring about a civilization of peace.”