One of the primary issues where Cardinal Martino has placed himself on the wrong side compared to the Holy Father is an hour of Islam instruction as an alternative to Christian instruction in the public schools of Italy.
He [the cardinal] made the second statement on Thursday, March 9, in a press conference at the end of a conference on “The Ways of Peace” held at the Saint Louis of France Cultural Center in Rome. He said: “If there are a hundred Muslim children in a school, I don’t see why one cannot teach them their religion.” And again: “If we said ‘no’ until we saw equivalent treatment for the Christian minorities in the Muslim countries, I would say that we were placing ourselves on their level.”
The newspaper of the Italian bishops responded to Cardinal Martino's comments, echoing then-Cardinal Ratzinger's comments on such a proposal for German schools back in 1999.
But it was above all the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, “Avvenire,” that, in a front page editorial on March 11, criticized at its roots the sustainability of the “hour of Islamic religion” evoked by the cardinal without any methodical precaution, and in particular without any reference to the reciprocal acknowledgment of the constitutional principles of the nation and of Catholicism as the founding heritage of the Italian identity, which is at the basis of the “concordat” between Italy and the Church, and of the teaching of the Catholic religion in the public schools.
These considerations of the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference are all the more interesting in that they coincide with the conditions that the then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had placed – in a 1999 interview with the weekly magazine “Welt am Sonntag” – on the eventual teaching of the Muslim religion in the German schools.
I should just start off with a disclaimer. Since I don't live in a country where Christianity enjoys certain treaty-defined priviledges, such concerns as 'identity' and the 'concordat' may not factor into this as much as they should.
The issue of reciprocity is an important one, but quite frankly, it can't be the overriding concern. If Muslims are not learning about their religion in the schools where the state can control the curriculum, they're going to be learning about it at home and in the mosques. Most parents and most imams are law-abiding citizens of Italy who I'm sure are doing their best to teach their children that Islam is not a religion that advocates strapping on a bomb-belt and blowing one's self up in the middle of a plaza.
It's the kids who slip through the cracks of such a private system and fall into the hands of the extremists who end up hating the West and who one day may find himself listening to the local al-Qaeda cadre leader explain where the best place is to kill as many Romans as possible.
Cardinal Martino's thought on Islam in the schools is right, but for the wrong reasons. He seems to want to give the hard-line Muslim clerics whatever they want. The reason why such a curriculum should not be dismissed out of hand is that the state can offer an informed and balanced view of Islam that will show young kids just what is going on with their religion and hopefully mold them into Muslims who become loyal adult citizens of the Italian state.