"Pope Benedict XVI's publicly stated view of Islam has undergone a remarkable transformation in less than five months." That's the conclusion reached by Russell Shaw in "Papal transformation - Benedict uses softer touch to dialogue with Islam" in Our Sunday Visitor.
In September 2006, he quoted without disagreement a statement about Muhammad having brought things "only evil and inhuman"; now he calls for Christians and Muslims to work together in the cause of peace.
Before becoming pope, he opposed Turkey's accession to the European Union; now he looks favorably on it joining.
Why the changes?
The papal turnaround began in reaction to the furious Muslim response to his Regensburg talk, continued via fence-mending remarks and gestures that included praying in a historic mosque during his trip to Turkey, and has kept up since then. That doesn't mean Pope Benedict has simply thrown in the towel as a critic of Islam. … The picture now emerging of where Pope Benedict stands looks something like this: Fearful of a cataclysmic clash between extremes – a hollowed-out, secularized West and jihadist Islamic fundamentalism – the pope hopes to promote entente between reasonable, responsible Christians and Muslims as an alternative.
Evidently, too, he thinks Catholicism can be a model to Islam, showing how a traditional faith can adapt to the modern world while remaining true to itself. Pope Benedict told the curia that Islam today faces "a task very similar" to the one that Christians have faced since the 18th-century Enlightenment – and to which Catholics found "concrete solutions" at the Second Vatican Council.
Specifically, Shaw sees the papal visit to Turkey as a turning point, "with his November address to Islamic leaders at the Religious Affairs Directorate in Istanbul a key moment," when he cited "the sacred character and dignity of the person" as the central value linking Christians and Muslims.
Comment: It's hard to resist the impression that the ferocious reaction to Benedict's Regensburg statement lies behind this change. Intimidation, it seems, works, even with the pope. (February 16, 2007)
May 29, 2007 update: In one of his first bureaucratic initiatives on taking office, Pope Benedict XVI in March 2006 merged the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, a fully-fledged Vatican dicastery (or ministry), then headed by a British expert on Islam, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, into the Vatican's culture ministry. Fitzgerald was dispatched to Cairo as papal nuncio to the Arab League. According to sources close to the Vatican and quoted by the Guardian, "the move reflected Pope Benedict's conviction at the time that a full theological dialogue with Muslim representatives was impossible." Now, with almost no notice, the council has been reinstated.