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Distorted translation may have prompted Egyptian Islamic leaders to break with Vatican

January 25, 2011

The decision by Egypt’s Al Azhar University to break off dialogue with the Vatican may have been prompted by a misinterpretation of Pope Benedict XVI, the AsiaNews service reports. Coptic Catholics in Egypt charge that the Al Jazeera television network deliberately distorted the Pope’s words.

The Egyptian university, which is regarded as the most influential institution in the Sunni Muslim world, and has been an enthusiastic partner in interfaith dialogue with the Holy See, announced the break in talks to protest Pope Benedict’s call for protection of Egypt’s Christian minority. Al Azhar officials said that the Pope constituted an unacceptable interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

However, the angry Egyptian reaction may have been based on a broadcast report by Al Jazeera, which said that the Pope “calls on Western governments to defend the Christians in the Middle East”—when in fact the Pope had said that the leaders of the Middle East must themselves protect their Christian citizens. The distortion by Al Jazeera created the impression that the Pontiff was calling for Western intervention in the affairs of Egypt and other countries in the region. Coptic Catholic spokesman see the Al Jazeera report as motivated by a desire to “sow confusion and stir relations between Egypt, and in particular Al Azhar, and the Catholic Church.”

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib and Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III had sought to reassure Islamic officials by providing them with an accurate translation of the Pope’s remarks. They were caught off guard when Al Azhar abruptly broke off talks.


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  • Posted by: Salome - Jan. 25, 2011 6:23 PM ET USA

    Sounds like a great university, whose leading scholars rely on translations in news reports and don't bother to verify and translate the original source. They can't have been having particularly good dialogue in the first place if they weren't able to do that.

  • Posted by: umpynelson3459 - Jan. 25, 2011 4:46 PM ET USA

    I think it all boils down to "A person will believe what he wants to believe." In this case a university.