VATICAN CITY - A new anti-Muslim uproar has been stirred in the Vatican after a Roman Catholic cardinal screened a fear-mongering Youtube video that makes shaky claims about the spread of Islam in Europe during an international meeting of bishops.
"As we were arriving this morning I was asked several times 'Who planned it? Whose was it? Who is behind it?" Father Thomas Rosica said at a briefing for journalists, who are not allowed to attend the synod sessions, the first since the screening, Reuters reported on Monday, October 15.
The seven-minute clip, called "Muslim Demographics," was the talk of an international gathering of bishops on Monday.
The controversy started two days ago when Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian who is based in the Vatican and is president of its Council for Justice and Peace, screened the controversial video during a free discussion period.
Causing consternation among his fellow bishops over the clip, he said the clip had sparked "the most animated" discussion so far at the three-week conference, and one bishop said he would rebut Turkson by presenting a report with contrary data.
Though the meeting was planned to discuss ways of winning back lapsed Roman Catholics in developed countries, the clip has brought Islam to the top of the agenda at the synod, attended by 262 bishops.
"Islam is the buzzword," Rosica said.
The clip, which has been viewed over 13 million times on YouTube since it was uploaded by an anonymous user in 2009, combines dramatic music with skewed population statistics to make claims about various European countries.
Among its false claims, the clip says "In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic."
Critics have pointed out that the fertility figures used in the video, which claim French women have an average of 1.8 children while French Muslim women have 8.1 children, cannot be genuine as France does not collect statistics by religion.
According to a study by the US-based Pew Research Center there were 2.18 billion Christians in 2010, half of which were Catholics.
The total number of Muslims of all denominations was 1.6 billion and forecast to increase 35 percent to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to the research group.
Italian Muslim scholars condemned the video as focusing on differences rather than their shared responsibilities, warning against a numbers war based on scare tactics by any side.
"I think that we should focus, Muslims and Christians, on our common challenges, rather than challenging each other in scary attitudes on who is going to increase or decrease in numbers," Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of the Islamic Religious Community of Italy, told Reuters.
"It's our shared responsibility as brothers and believers in the same holy God," he said.
The Holy See's relations with Islam have not always been smooth.
Benedict's positions have often caused controversies.
In September 2006, Pope Benedict delivered a lecture in Germany quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.
The lecture triggered criticisms from Muslim countries, scholars and intellectuals and strained ties between the Vatican and the Muslim world.
The pontiff has repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.
He also drew the ire of religious leaders after issuing a document titled Dominus Jesus, which clearly stated that Christianity was the only true path to salvation.