Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has made statements in the past that made him sound quite sceptical about the value of a theological dialogue with Muslims. (Photo: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran)
That wasn’t what I found when I interviewed him last Saturday at his office on Via della Conciliazione, just down the road from St. Peter’s Basilica. The subject was the Catholic-Muslim Forum he had just hosted on Nov 4-6 between a Muslim delegation from the Common Word group and Catholic delegation of Vatican officials, Catholic Islam scholars and bishops from western and Muslim countries.
The Common Word group, he said, could become a “favoured channel” for Vatican contacts with Muslims, even while it retains other channels of dialogue. While he still had some reservations about the group’s approach because of differences he sees in ways of reading scriptures, he was quite positive about the actual dialogue itself. “In discussing the love of God, we were doing theology unintentionally,” he said. That jibed with a point that Muslim delegates made during the session itself. “I thought they didn’t want to discuss theology but we’ve been doing that from the start,” University of Cambridge Islamic studies lecturer Tim Winter remarked halfway though the conference.
The cardinal said he felt the most important part of the final communique was item number 5: “Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion. It includes the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public.” The public part is the key, since that could help Christian minorities in Muslim countries. It could also help Muslim minorities in western countries, which is why Muslim delegation head Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric persuaded the doubters in his ranks to accept it. Several Muslim delegates told me they most appreciated the next item, which reads: “Religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices. They are also entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.” Tauran had more to say about this in the interview.
Tauran also said there were now too many different Christian-Muslim dialogues and he saw a risk that they could start tripping over each other. Here’s my news story on the interview.