A Reuters article earlier in the year quoted “one Vatican official” as saying ““That’s just Tauran being Tauran.”
Well, it appears that we have more “Tauran being Tauran” today, as the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue made this comment:
“In my opinion, there are too many Christian-Muslim initiatives. Everybody’s doing it,” he told Reuters in an interview. “One doesn’t know where this will go. That proves there is a great interest, but it sows a bit of confusion.
“There’s a risk of overlapping… It may be the price to pay for all this interest that interreligious dialogue incites.”
Is he really suggesting that there should be LESS dialogue between Christians and Muslims? Surely not!
Perhaps the thing we need to clarify is the important difference between “too MANY” dialogues, and “too MUCH” dialogue. While there can never be “too much” dialogue – certainly not between private citizens – it is possible that if there are a lot of “semi-official” dialogues taking place at the same time, it can be unclear who is talking for who and the many “common statements” can get lost in the forest.
But here we need to understand something of the difference between structures in the Catholic Church and structures in the wider Christian and Muslim world. In general, Catholics have conducted their ecumenical dialogues through official channels. For instance, there is an official international Anglican Catholic dialogue (ARCIC) run by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and a national one (AUS-ARC) run by the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference. We have a local dialogue too – but even that is run between the official bodies of the Catholic Archdiocese (us) and the local Anglican Diocese.
But the Christian world as such is much more multi-form than the Catholic Church alone. No one, not even the World Council of Churches, can speak for “all Christians”. And when we move over into the Muslim world, the multiplicity of groups and authorities just increases ten fold. So, when dialogue takes place between Christians and Muslims in the world (something I am sure Cardinal Tauran does not want to see decrease), it is natural that the resulting “web of communication” is more of a cobweb than a neatly spun orb with a clear centre and lines of communication and hierarchy.
Nevertheless, it is certainly a sign for hope that there is now, at the highest level of the Catholic Church, an official dialogue opening up with Muslims. This has been enabled by the unprecedented unity of Muslim voices represented in the “A Common Word” statement. It is quite clear that in his comments, Cardinal Tauran does not want to close down this most promising development. More likely it is his hope that this “premiere” Christian-Muslim dialogue might in fact lead to some ordering of the great multiplicity of dialogues happenning elsewhere in the world – including here in the Glorious See of Melbourne, Australia.