Now that Pope Benedict XVI has expressed regret for offending Muslims in remarks he made last week, we hope Catholics and Muslims alike will put aside the pontiff’s comments and move forward in a conciliatory spirit.

Muslim leaders need to condemn the specific acts of violence that followed the pope’s speech. More important, they must work against the nurturing of grievance that politicises insults, giving them a destructive dynamic. There are hopeful examples of such leadership. Muhammad Habash, head of the centre for Islamic studies in Damascus, acknowledged Muslims’ shock at the pope’s remarks but said that now “it is our turn to call for calming the situation.” The top Islamic cleric in Turkey, Ali Bardakoglu, who had criticised the pope, accepted the apology.

For the past two years, Be-nedict has been a no-show at interfaith gatherings in Assisi, begun 20 years ago by his predecessor, John Paul II. Last year, he issued an edict revoking the autonomy of Assisi’s Franciscan monks, a move that was seen as a reaction against the monks’ interfaith activism. In offering his regrets, the pope said that in its totality, his speech was intended as “an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.” The Pope will have to accept that real communication cannot occur on his terms only. — The New York Times