Daily Archives: November 25, 2008

Does the Pope believe "Interfaith Dialogue Not Possible"?

Reports (see here for New York Times) are circulating in the media today about a letter written by Pope Benedict to his friend and one-time co-author, the former president of the Italian Senate Marcello Pera.

The “headline” of the reports is that Benedict is denying the possibility of “true dialogue” between faiths, in favour of “intercultural” dialogue. Some will see here echoes of the temporary arrangement whereby the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue were working under the one president early in Benedict’s pontificate.

Here are the facts as clearly as I can make them out.

Pera and Ratzinger co-authored a book shortly before the latter became pope called “Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam” (2005). Their contact has continued since Ratzinger’s election as pope (cf. this story about a papal audience in October 2007).

Now Pera has written a new book, “Perché dobbiamo dirci cristiani” (“Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian”), and, as an introduction, there is a personal letter and recommendation from the Holy Father. As reviewer Maria Antonietta Calabrò puts it in a 23rd November review in Corriere Della Sera, such an “introduction” for a book is “un evento eccezionale, se non unico” (“an exceptional event, if not a unique one”).

The same edition of the Italian newspaper published the full text of the letter/introduction.

Below I give the full Italian original of this letter and the “google translation”. My Italian is very poor, but as far as I can gather, the sentence which begins “Ella spiega…” (ie. the crucial sentence regarding the possibility of authentic interreligious dialogue) refers to a thesis put forward by Pera in his book, not a thesis originating from the Holy Father himself. Benedict may agree with this judgement, but the judgement is not originally his, but Pera’s.

As Fr Federico Lombardi of the Holy See’s press office said (according to the NYT article):

the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest to Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious dialogues. “He has a papacy known for religious dialogue; he went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Father Lombardi said. “This means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a positive relationship.”

It is also quite likely that George Weigel’s remarks (also as reported by the NYT) are correct. The Pope is not saying that interrelgious dialogue is “impossible”, but that dialogue between religious communities is more fruitful when it is focused on practical and social outcomes rather than theoretical and theological agreements.

He may well have had in mind the current situation with respect to dialogue with Islam. For instance, at the recent Catholic Muslim Forum, the Catholic side clearly were more interested in practical outcomes with regard to religious freedom than theoretical outcomes relating to reaching mutual understanding on theological matters.

In fact, as I read it, the Holy Father in the next sentence actually says that true intercultural dialogue cannot “put faith in brackets”, that is, blank it out as irrelevant. To be truthful, dialogue between cultures must include the aspect of the faith of those engaged in dialogue. This appears to be a swipe, not at interreligious dialogue, but at secularism that would exclude faith from the dialogue.

That conclusion is a little bit different from the conclusion the newspapers have reached.

Anyway, here is the letter, in Italian and Google English for you to read yourself (page down to the bottom of link)


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Asceticism & Passion: St Augustine, Max Scheler & Pope Benedict XVI – On the Place of Desire in Life

Caroline Chisholm Library
Wednesday Lunchtime Talk

Asceticism & Passion: St Augustine, Max Scheler & Pope Benedict XVI – On the Place of Desire in Life.

Br Vincent Magat O.P.

1-2 pm, Wednesday 26th November, 2008
The Caroline Chisholm Library
3rd Floor\358 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 3000
For more information call 03 9670 1815
Or Email: cclibrary@bigpond.com

Br Vincent Magat is a solemnly professed friar of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) in the Province of the Assumption. He has recently completed studies in theology at the Melbourne College of Divinity and an Honours Degree in Philosophy at Melbourne University. He is currently the Religious Assistant to the Dominican Laity Chapter of Blessed Adrian Fortescue which meets at the Caroline Chisholm Library.

No Bookings Required
Donations for the Support of the Library Welcome


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"Exactly what is the difference between Lutherans and Catholics, Dad?"

Okay. This was going to come sometime. So, if you are Lutheran or Catholic, or was once either and are now the other, I need your help.

The question came from my 10 year old daughter at (Catholic) Mass last night (my wife’s graduation from her Heart of Life Spiritual Leaders course). Five minutes before mass is not the easiest time to give an answer to that question.

If you asked me that question, I could tell you, no probs. After all, I am nothing to you, and you nothing to me other than that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. You could take or leave anything I say. I’m sure you do anyway.

But Maddy (baptised and communing Lutheran, going to Catholic school, one parent Lutheran the other Catholic) tends to look to her father as an authority on these things whom she can trust, and so she should. And whatever answer I give her will have a real impact for her life as she decides how she will faithfully follow her Lord. This is no time for philosophy or splitting hairs, and probably even history will have to be put on the back burner. She asked a simple question. Now it is my duty to give her a simple, honest and fair answer.

Which is easier than it sounds.

So this is where you come in, dear Reader, in this interactive posting:

I am inviting you to write a letter to Maddy in the combox – saying what you would say in answer to the question “Exactly what is the difference between Lutherans and Catholics?” Remember to keep it simple – she’s ten years old, a cluey girl as you would expect her to be, but still only a youngster.

If your letters hit the spot, I will give them to her and tell her that this is how some of my friends, Lutheran and Catholic, have answered her question. It will be a good discussion starter for us.


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