VATICAN CITY (AP) — Jewish and Muslim leaders on Monday cautiously praised recent remarks by Pope Benedict XVI, who said that dialogue among faiths should be pursued even though it is impossible on strictly religious issues.
The comments in an open letter published Sunday in Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera, marked the latest statement by Benedict on the subject.
The pontiff has often discussed the theme of dialogue among religions and has worked for the improvement of interfaith relations.
But he also angered many Muslims in a 2006 speech about Islam and violence, although relations have improved since then.
In his letter, the pope was commenting on an upcoming book by a conservative politician and scholar, Marcello Pera, who has long spoken in defense of Europe’s Christian roots.
The pope said the book “explains clearly that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” The pope elaborated that “real dialogue” on religious choices is not possible “without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”
But he said that “it’s necessary to face, in a public dialogue, the cultural consequences of fundamental religious choices.”
“Here, dialogue, as well as mutual correction and enrichment, are both possible and necessary,” Benedict wrote.
Since becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has made improving interfaith relations a theme of his pontificate. He has visited synagogues during trips to Germany and the United States, and a mosque during a visit to Turkey.
Earlier this month, the Vatican hosted a Catholic-Muslim conference intended to help the two faiths find common ground.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict’s words do “not put in doubt the pope’s interreligious commitment.”
“(Interreligious) dialogue does not mean questioning one’s own faith,” Lombardi said. “It deals with the many other aspects that come from one’s personal belief, cultural, historical … as well as their consequences.”
Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, welcomed the pope’s remarks “for their clarity.” He said the comments were “opportune and interesting” in that they set the limits of religious dialogue.
“Faiths cannot hold dialogue beyond a certain point because there are insurmountable limits,” Di Segni told The Associated Press on Monday. “This is a limit to all religious dialogue: It’s not like a political negotiation where I give you this and that and we make peace. It’s not like we give up dogmas.”
Di Segni, however, urged clarification on certain elements in the pope’s remarks, such as where to draw the line between religious dialogue as opposed to cultural dialogue.
“He has set the limits, which were necessary. We must then see where it goes from there,” the Jewish leader said.
A spokesman for an Italian Muslim Group, UCOII, also called for further clarification. He told Corriere della Sera that “dialogue among believers exists: We don’t hold a dialogue on our faiths … but we do on how we can coexist, each in our diversity.”
Associated Press Writer Daniela Petroff contributed to this report.