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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a new book recounting the last 10 years of his pontificate, Pope Francis is defending Islam as a "religion of peace" and suggesting the possibility of making celibacy optional for Latin rite priests.
Non Sei Solo: Sfide, Risposte, Speranze (You Are Not Alone: Challenges, Answers, Hopes), published in Italian and released Tuesday, is a series of dialogues with journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti.
The pontiff calls upon Europe to integrate Muslim migrants, insisting that "radical Islam is a problem and represents a perversion of religiosity because Islam, in truth, is a religion of peace and the majority of its members are peaceful."
"As they say, either you are a terrorist or you are a Muslim. Then, by the way, we find fundamentalism in all religions," Francis observes. "Radical Islam is a perversion because it is a religion that talks about peace."
The pope narrates an encounter with an apostolic nuncio destined for an African country. The nuncio described how Muslims in the cathedral of his capital would form a long queue to cross the "holy door" and obtain jubilee indulgences.
The Muslim devotees then headed for the altar "where they find the image of the Madonna because Mary is venerated in Islam," the nuncio told Pope Francis.
"In any case, I consider myself ignorant when it comes to international politics, but I believe that the rise of ISIS [Islamic State] is based on an unfortunate Western choice," Francis notes, blaming the West for the creation of the terrorist Muslim outfit.
"The Gulf War was a real disgrace, not to say one of the worst cruelties. Saddam Hussein was certainly no little angel, on the contrary, but Iraq was a fairly stable country. Warning: I am not defending Gaddafi or Hussein. But what did the war leave behind?" asks the pontiff.
"Organized anarchy and more war. Therefore, I believe that we must not export our democracy to other countries, but rather help them develop a process of democratic maturation according to their characteristics," Francis notes.
"Don't go to war to import a democracy that their people are unable to assimilate," he warns. There are countries that have a monarchical system and that will probably never accept a democracy, but we can certainly contribute to ensuring that there is greater participation."
"Let's think about Libya, which seems to be able to be led only by very strong personalities like Gaddafi. A Libyan told me that they once had only one Gaddafi, but now they have 53," Francis adds.
Asked about traditionalist Catholics who do not like his "approachable attitude" and his "accessible language," the pope responded, "Many are scandalized because they claim I am desacralizing the papacy. They belong to the, let us say, more aristocratic sectors. On the contrary, the simple people feel a just veneration for the pope."
Emphasizing that holy orders, including the diaconate, are "reserved for men," Francis argues that, in theory, a woman could be a cardinal, since "the cardinalate is not connected to the sacrament of orders, but rather to the function of advisor to the pope."
If, however, women were to be made cardinals, "I could issue a decree that changes the requirements for entering the conclave and allows a bishop who is not a cardinal to participate," since only bishops can elect a pope.
On ordaining women deacons, Francis points out that "there were different opinions on whether or not they [deaconesses in the Early Church] had the sacrament of [holy] orders."
Regarding mandatory celibacy for Latin rite priests, Francis explains that celibacy "is a disciplinary issue, which implies that a pope could arrange for it to become optional."
"Let my successor arrange it if he deems it appropriate," he remarks. "Celibacy is torture; it becomes impossible if one experiences it badly. But it is no less true that if one lives it with the fruitfulness of the ministry he has chosen, it is not only bearable but also beautiful. It's obvious that a vocation is needed."
Dr. Ruud Koopmans, professor of sociology and migration research at the Humboldt University of Berlin and director of the research unit at the Berlin Social Science Centre, has debunked Francis' claim that most Muslims are peace-loving and that those who support violence in the name of Islam are only a tiny minority.
Of the 1.5 billion adult Muslims in the world, more than 50 million are willing to sanction violence, Koopmans concludes, noting that half the world's Muslim population is "attached to an archconservative Islam that places little worth on the rights of women, homosexuals and people of other faiths."
Koopmans' estimate concurs with a 2013 Pew report that found that in a majority of Muslim countries, only half of Muslims said they were concerned about religious extremism. Nearly 100 million Muslims worldwide believe the that 9/11 attacks were completely justified.
Moreover, according to the report, 14% of Muslims said that suicide attacks against civilians are justified in defending Islam.
Even though not all these Muslims would be prepared to engage directly in violence, "they support the radicals, they encourage them and provide them shelter or simply keep their mouths shut when they observe radicalization," Koopmans stresses.
"I am very conservative with my estimate of 50 million violent Muslims," he acknowledges.
Koopmans' team undertook extensive research on 9,000 immigrant Muslims in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden who came from Turkey and Morocco.
The researcher also cites the study on Muslims in Germany that was commissioned by Germany's Ministry of the Interior in 2007, which revealed that 8% of German Muslims agreed with using violence against unbelievers.
In the Netherlands, the 2010 study on Salafism and Jihadism in the Netherlands found that 11% of Dutch Muslims agreed with this statement: "There are situations where it is acceptable for me, from the point of view of my religion, that I use violence."