VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis broke his silence on Hagia Sophia at the end of his Angelus address Sunday to deliver a six word non-condemnation of Islam's takeover of the world's greatest Byzantine basilica.
"I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened," is how Vatican News translated Francis' statement from the Italian: "Penso a Santa Sofia, e sono molto addolorato."
Francis began his post-Angelus address offering greetings for International Sea Day and after addressing seafarers for a few minutes, said: "And the sea takes me a little far with my thoughts: in Istanbul."
The Holy Father then dropped in six words — not counting a single letter preposition and conjunction — almost in parenthesis, on the historic crisis facing Hagia Sophia.
Francis added further greetings and ended his address wishing the audience "a good lunch."
Speaking to Church Militant, distinguished Islamic historian Robert Spencer blasted Francis' equivocation.
"The pope's tardy statement manifests a studied ambiguity," Spencer said. "What exactly is he saddened about? He doesn't say."
"Is he saddened because what was the foremost church in the Christian world for nearly a millennium, and the center of Eastern Christianity, has been made a mosque?" Spencer asked.
Or is he saddened because this act harms the dialogue he has so ardently pursued with the Islamic world — even at the price of silence over the Muslim persecution of Christians — and demonstrates that his dialogue partners are not remotely as interested in tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence as he likes to pretend that they are?
The author of the bestselling The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS continued: "Has he made this unclear statement because he doesn't wish to say anything clearly in support of maintaining Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, for fear of offending those Muslim dialogue partners?"
"The conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque should be the occasion of some introspection on the pope's part, leading him to reconsider the value of a Muslim-Christian dialogue that has not prevented this expression of Islamic triumphalism and supremacism. But it almost certainly will not be," Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, concluded.
Church Militant has repeatedly called out Pope Francis for his silence on Hagia Sophia, pointing out the failure of the pontiff's controversial "Human Fraternity" pact with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb signed in February 2019.
Hagia Sophia's Islamic takeover, violates the Abu Dhabi declaration, which calls for "the protection of places of worship — synagogues, churches and mosques" as "a duty guaranteed by religions, human values, laws and international agreements."
Greece described Islam's occupation of Hagia Sophia as a "provocation to the civilized world" with culture minister Lina Mendoni pointing out that "the nationalism shown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan takes his country back six centuries."
Francis, an unrelenting critic of Western nationalism, has never rebuked Erdoğan for his rabid Islamic nationalism.
Instead, in February 2018, the pope invited Erdoğan to the Vatican and gifted him with a symbol of peace at a time when Turkish forces were continuing their military offensive against Kurds in Syria.
The pontiff presented Erdoğan with a bronze medallion portraying an angel embracing the world while battling a dragon.
"For the first time since his election, I actually pity Francis," Catholic academic John Zmirak told Church Militant. "This timid squeak of distress about the profanation of one of Christendom's holiest places ... it might even come from the heart."
"Francis recalls to me one of the lost souls in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, who may leave Hell if they wish. But they've built inextricable traps of pride, sloth, wrath, or other vices," the author of the The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism lamented.
"Francis has trapped himself in the Woke ideology of the post-Christian left. He cannot condemn abuses unless they're the fault of Designated Villains. That is, white, straight, orthodox Christian males," Dr. Zmirak explained.
"When Islamist Turks, or Chinese Communists, or secular abortion activists victimize the weak, Francis' mouth is stuffed. His Manichaean hatred of the West and its past renders him a moral idiot," Zmirak excoriated.
Earlier on Friday, the Orthodox Times ran a scorching editorial on the Vatican's failure to speak out: "The unjustified silence of the Holy See and personally of Pope Francis on the burning issue of the conversion of the emblematic church of Hagia Sophia into a mosque causes concern and sadness in the Christian world."
"At a time when the whole world, both religiously and politically and academically, has taken a clear stand against Turkey's intention to once again defile the temple of the Wisdom of God, the loquacious and ever-sensitive bishop of Rome is … silent," it remonstrated.
This "is the second time in the history of Hagia Sophia that a global appeal has been made for its protection, and unfortunately Rome prefers not to get involved," the editorial observed, recalling Constantinople's conquest by Muslim invaders in 1453.
"Today, 560 years later, unfortunately, history repeats itself," the Orthodox journal lamented.
On June 18, Turkey's Catholic bishops expressed reluctance to speak out on the Muslim takeover of the museum.
"Although we would like the Hagia Sophia to maintain its character as a museum, we are not in position to intervene or even express our opinion on a decision that concerns exclusively the Turkish Republic," the bishops added.
Global religious and secular leaders condemned the verdict of Turkey's highest administrative court which paved the way for Hagia Sophia to return to its conquered status as a mosque.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew earlier warned if Hagia Sophia was made a mosque it would "push millions of Christians around the world against Islam" and "cause a break between the two worlds" of East and West.
"The concern of millions of Christians was not listened to," lamented Moscow Patriarchate's spokesman Vladimir Legoida.
Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church called it "a blow to world orthodoxy," while Archpriest Nikolai Balashov said the event "could have serious consequences for the entire human civilization."
Even the liberal World Council of Churches (WCC) denounced Turkey's decision, conveying "the grief and dismay" of its 350 member churches.
"By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey's openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division," a WCC statement said.
Pope Francis reticence on Hagia Sophia has been matched only by the silence of Anglican archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, a close ecumenical partner of the pontiff. On a visit to Istanbul in 2014, Welby categorically stated: "It [Hagia Sophia] should not become a mosque." But Welby, who hosted Grand Imam Al-Tayyeb at Lambeth Palace in 2018, has been tight-lipped on the Islamization of the basilica.
"Both Pope Francis and Abp. Welby claim to have established terrific relations with the world's most important Sunni Muslim leader. President Erdoğan is a Sunni Muslim. Why, then, have neither of them used their interfaith partnership with Al-Tayyeb to bring pressure on Erdoğan?" Church Militant asked a Shariah scholar.
"Because Islam, following the teaching of its prophet Muhammad, doesn't believe in honoring treaties with infidels," the scholar responded.
On Friday, the Council of State, Turkey's top court, annulled the 1934 decision of president Kemal Atatürk's cabinet to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum as part of his secularist reforms.
Immediately afterwards, President Erdoğan announced the resumption of Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia from July 24.
Emperor Justinian the Great dedicated the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to the Wisdom of God in 537. Sultan Mohammed II conquered Constantinople and converted the basilica into a mosque in 1453.