FaithWorld

Cardinal sees possible “favoured channel” in dialogue with Islam

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.

Ex-diplomat Cardinal Tauran pulls no punches now

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 25 Nov 2005/Jameson WuCardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has apparently left diplomacy behind in his past life. The cardinal is now the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and as such, Pope Benedict’s point man for relations with all non-Christian religions except for Judaism.

From 1975 to 2003, Tauran was often a tight-lipped Vatican diplomat. He did his job so well he ended his previous life as Secretary for Relations with States, effectively the
Vatican’s foreign minister and number three position in the Secretariat of State.

When he left that job, the Frenchman was briefly Archivist of Holy Roman Church and kept a mostly low profile.

Interfaith talks on agenda in Mecca, Rome and London

Saudi King Abdullah (r) and former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 4 June 2008/Ho NewThere were interesting words on interfaith dialogue from Mecca and Rome today and London yesterday. Efforts to improve contacts and understanding among the main monotheist religions have been gaining steam recently and we’re starting to see some concrete steps. But, as a meeting in Mecca showed, the road ahead could still be quite rocky.

The Mecca meeting, organised by the Saudi-based Muslim World League, is supposed to draw up guidelines for the inter-faith dialogue that Saudi King Abdullah says he wants with Christianity and Islam. “You are meeting here today to say to the world with pride that we are a fair, honest, humanitarian and moral voice, a voice for living together and dialogue,” the monarch said in a high-minded speech.

But former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the few prominent Shi’ites at the conference, rained on his parade with broadsides against the United States and Israel. But he also said: “To have a dialogue with other religions we need to start talking among ourselves. The call needs to be directed at ourselves first of all, and all the sects need to agree on shared points. As a Muslim and a Shi’ite … I say the things we agree on are many.”

Muslim scholar questions Vatican understanding of Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis TauranThe cautious Vatican reaction to the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars has prompted one of the signatories to question whether the top Catholic official for relations with Muslims understands Islam. More specifically, Aref Ali Nayed has asked how Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran can say that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims is not possible because they will not discuss the Koran in depth. This debate (discussed in an earlier post here) is dense and highly specialised. But it may be at this level that this unprecedented dialogue could take off or fail to ignite.

Nayed, a former professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome and main spokesman for the 138 scholars, flatly refutes Tauran’s view. He says Muslims have always interpreted the Koran and studied it both historically and linguistically. Their methods were even the forerunners of the “historical-critical” method that Christians use with the Bible, he says. Protestants began applying this “higher criticism” to the Bible in the 18th century and Catholics accepted it only in 1943, making them latecomers to this exercise in Nayed’s view. I am no specialist on these details and will need to hear reactions from Christian theologians.

Readers interested in Nayed’s argument can read it on the website of Islamica magazine or read Cindy Wooden’s story for the Catholic News Service on it. I’ll just quote the crisp conclusion:

Vatican says Pope cannot sign collective response to Muslims

popesigns.jpgA new twist has appeared in the back-and-forth between the Vatican and the Muslim scholars calling for a Christian-Islamic dialogue.

It seems Vatican protocol may partly be responsible for holding up an official Catholic response. “I’m favourable to a quick response to the letter,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, adding the Vatican still had “to study what kind of response to make and with whom”.

Then the head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue explained one of the problems to be solved.

Will Pope Benedict respond to the Muslim dialogue appeal on Sunday?

Cardinal Jean-Louis TauranWill Pope Benedict respond to the dialogue appeal by 138 Muslim scholars this Sunday? After only 10 days? That would be almost breakneck speed. I have to admit I expected the Vatican to take a lot longer in responding to the unprecedented appeal. Even called it “the slow boat in the convoy” among Christians.

But Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Rome’s main official for dealing with Islam, came out today with a heavy hint that something was expected. In an interview with the French Catholic daily La Croix (here in French), he mentioned that Benedict would be speaking in Naples on Sunday at the opening of the Sant’Egidio community’s interfaith conference “For a World Without Violence.”

“The pope will be there at the start and will certainly say something,” Tauran said, without letting on anything else. A bit thin, but given the way this former Vatican foreign minister weighs his words, that could be a signal.