What John Paul II would say about mosque plans at ground zero

Most of you probably heard about the controversy regarding the request by an Islamic group to build a center, complete with mosque, near ground zero, where the World Trade Center twin towers stood before the terrorist-commandeered commercial airliners brought them down on 9/11.

It overlapped a bit with another controversial mosque site, a convent building owned by a Catholic parish on Staten Island. The pastor eventually reversed his initial support for the sale to a Muslim group after heated local protests.

New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan addressed both controversies on his blog:

“Legitimate and understandable concerns about these two endeavors have arisen, and it is good these are being aired and discussed,” he said. “Please God, such airing and discussion will be done with charity and civility, and reach a peaceful resolution.

“Yes, it is acceptable to ask questions about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build and buy,” he continued.

“What is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome, and religious freedom.”

He didn’t come down either way, but his post was titled, “Welcoming the Outsider,” and detailed at length the Catholic value and tradition of hospitality.

The language was more superheated in the political sphere. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who became Catholic last year, insisted on reciprocity, noting that Saudi Arabia still does not allow the construction of Christian churches in its country:

“There should be no mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.”

Surprising some, even the Jewish civil rights group, the Anti-Defamation League, argued against the mosque location, saying this was not a question of rights but of “what is right” to the families of 9/11 victims.

An interesting Catholic parallel was offered by William McGurn at the Wall Street Journal. He recalled that when Jewish groups expressed outrage in the 1980s when Carmelite nuns opened a convent on the edge of Auschwitz, the Polish concentration camp, and both sides dug in, Pope John Paul II wrote asking the sisters to move.

The pope may have thought the nuns had a right to be there, and they may have ended up prevailing in any legal challenge had they stayed. But, McGurn says, “What he did was recognize that having the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

What do you think? What trumps? Religious freedom? Healing for victims? Let me know at feedback@osv.com.