Pope Benedict Has Been “Misinterpreted” On Interfaith Dialogue

The Vatican has said that a statement by Pope Benedict XVI on the “impossibility” of religious dialogue has been misinterpreted, and does “not put in doubt the Pope’s inter-religious commitment.”

In a preface to a book by Marcello Pera, a centre-Right Italian senator, entitled Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians, the Pope says the book “explains clearly that an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” He adds that “real dialogue” on religious choices is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

However it is “necessary to face, in a public dialogue, the cultural consequences of fundamental religious choices.” Such a cultural dialogue involved “mutual correction and enrichment and was “both possible and necessary,” Pope Benedict wrote.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said what the Pope meant was that inter-faith dialogue “does not mean questioning one’s own faith. It deals with the many other aspects that come from one’s personal beliefs, cultural and historical, and their consequences.”

He said that far from discouraging or opposing dialogue between faiths the Pope was arguing that it should and must be pursued, “even though it is impossible on strictly religious issues.” Father Lombardi noted that since he became Pope three years ago Pope Benedict had visited synagogues in Germany and the United States and a mosque in Turkey.

The chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, said he agreed with the Pope that there were “insurmountable limits” to interfaith dialogue. However it remained unclear where the defining line lay between “religious dialogue” and “cultural dialogue”.

Italian Muslim leaders also said they agreed with the Pope that the dialogue between faiths was a dialogue on on “coexistence in diversity”, but that the Pope’s remarks needed “clarifying”. The Vatican recently hosted the first Catholic-Muslim forum, attended by Muslim and Catholic scholars and officials.

However earlier this month Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said there were now too many initiatives to improve relations between Christians and Muslims, which risked “overlapping and creating confusion”.

Four years ago, when Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he published a study of Europe’s identity crisis in collaboration with Senator Pera under the title Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam.