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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue

ROME — In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI
cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but 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.

In quotations from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera,
Italy’s leading daily newspaper, the pope said 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

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 dialogues.

“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.”

some scholars, the pope’s remarks seemed aimed at pushing more
theoretical interreligious conversations into the practical realm.

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.

This month, 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.

The church is also
engaged in dialogue with Muslims organized by the king of Saudi Arabia,
a country where non-Muslims are forbidden from worshiping in public.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 24, 2008, on page A7 of the New York edition.