The whole furore over the Pope's speech has been blown out of all proportion, just because a short soundbite was taken out of context. This is what is so irresponsible about news - it takes a tiny bit of something out of context and then relays it around the world just to wind everyone up.
I can honestly say that I am a completely neutral observer (not being a Catholic at all), but taken in context, there's nothing to be offended about. I'm not a fan of "God's Rottweiler", particularly, but I intensely dislike being misled by the media.
This is what he actually said:
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read... of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.
In the seventh conversation...the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. ... he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.
- The Pope distances himself from Manuel II by prefacing the quote with the phrase "with a startling brusqueness" and following with "after having expressed himself so forcefully".
- Manuel II was talking in the sense of comparative religion, saying that the main difference between his religion (Orthodox Christianity, which didn't do forcible conversions as far as I know) and Islam was that Muhammad had only brought violence (in addition to stuff that other religions had already invented). Clearly they hadn't really got the hang of interfaith dialogue in those days.
- The Pope is quoting this in support of his argument that faith and reason need to go hand in hand; not as part of an attempt to persuade people that Islam is bad.
- He is specifically talking about Islam because he wants to make the point that the Muslim view of God (in the 14th century at any rate) was that God transcends our categories, even rationality; whereas the Byzantine view was that not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. He then reflects on the question of whether the Greek view is universally true, or just an opinion.