Vatican recalibrates response to Middle East riots, says violence is never justified

The Vatican on Thursday (Sept. 13) issued the “firmest possible condemnation” for the mob attacks that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya, one day after seeming to blame people who intentionally provoked Muslims.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that nothing can “justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence.”

His words struck a different tone from the Vatican’s initial reaction on Wednesday, when Lombardi warned against the “tragic results” of “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslim sensitivities.

“Along with our sadness, mourning and prayers for the victims, we again express the hope that, despite this latest tragedy, the international community may discover the most favorable ways to continue its commitment in favor of peace in Libya and the entire Middle East,” Lombardi said on Thursday.

Lombardi’s first statement on the attacks had been criticized as “outrageous” by conservative Catholic commentator Phil Lawler. “The first order of business, for civilized people, is a clear, unequivocal, and absolute condemnation of the killings,” he wrote on the Catholic Culture website.

Muslim protests across the Middle East, allegedly sparked by an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S., threaten to overshadow Pope Benedict XVI’s delicate visit to Lebanon, which is due to start on Friday.

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, stressed that Benedict is coming as a “messenger of peace.” The region’s “growing tensions,” he added, have “strengthened” his desire to travel there to “promote peace and express solidarity.”

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