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Pope casts doubt on interfaith talks

POPE Benedict XVI has cast doubt on the possibility
of interfaith dialogue. However, he called for more discussion of the
practical consequences of religious differences.

The pope’s comments came in a letter he wrote to
Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose
forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” argues that
Europe should stay true to its Christian roots.

A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe.

Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily
newspaper, in its Sunday edition quoted the pope as saying the book
“explained with great clarity” that “an interreligious dialogue in the
strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added
the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith
in parentheses.”

But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue
which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was
important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural
consequences of basic religious decisions.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi,
said the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest to Mr. Pera’s
book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious

“He has a papacy known for religious dialogue; he
went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Father Lombardi said. “This
means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a
positive relationship.” To some scholars, the pope’s remarks seemed
aimed at pushing more theoretical interreligious conversations into the
practical realm.

“He’s trying to get the Catholic-Islamic dialogue
out of the clouds of theory and down to brass tacks: how can we know
the truth about how we ought to live together justly, despite basic
creedal differences?” said George Weigel, a Catholic scholar and
biographer of Pope John Paul II.

In November this year, the Vatican held a conference
with Muslim religious leaders and scholars aimed at improving ties. The
conference participants agreed to condemn terrorism and protect
religious freedom, but they did not address issues of conversion and of
the rights of Christians in majority Muslim countries to worship. Agencies