Viewing cable 08VATICAN17

08VATICAN172008-01-30 17:19:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vatican
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CLASSIFIED BY: Christopher Sandrolini, Charge d'affaires, EXEC, 
REASON: 1.4 (d) 
¶1. (C) Summary.  Senior Holy See officials and scholars 
discussed interfaith relations with the visiting Deputy 
Assistant to VP Cheney, Joseph Wood, January 14-15. Cardinal 
Jean-Louis Tauran and Father Miguel Ayuso described the 
increasing Church engagement with the signers of "A Common 
Word", commenting on both the opportunity presented by this 
initiative and some of the difficulties posed by dialogue with 
Islam.  Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Brian Farrell described 
relations with Orthodox Christians -- generally positive with 
Greek Orthodox, more nascent and tentative with Russian 
Orthodox.  Interreligious dialogue, thought to be in disfavor in 
Rome just two years ago, is now quite prominent, and has 
important political aspects.  End summary. 
¶2. (U) During a January 14-15 visit to Rome, Deputy Assistant to 
the Vice President Joseph Wood discussed the Holy See's 
relations with Muslims in meetings with Father Miguel Ayuso -- 
Rector of the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies 
(PISAI) -- and with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the 
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.  Wood also 
discussed Catholic-Orthodox relations with Bishop Brian Farrell, 
Vice President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian 
Unity. Charge d'affaires also attended these meetings. 
Relations with Islam 
¶3. (C)  Father Ayuso noted that "A Common Word Between You and 
Us" was a dramatic step that had created a "golden chance" for 
relations between Christianity and Islam.  The document (see 
reftel) now has 211 signatories, up from the original 138, and 
the number is growing steadily.  The document has now been 
disseminated throughout the world and is attracting increasing 
attention.  Three of the original 138 signatories would be 
coming to Rome for preliminary talks with the Holy See:  one 
Italian, one Jordanian, and one Libyan.  (Note:  from Italy - 
Imam Yahya Pallavicini, from Libya - Dr. Aref Ali Nayed.)  Two 
working teams have been set up at the same time, one at PISAI 
itself, the other at the Aal al-Bayt Foundation in Amman.  Later 
in the spring, a larger Muslim delegation would come to Rome for 
a more formal session with the Holy See. 
¶4. (C) Ayuso noted that the signers of "A Common Word" are 
generally very knowledgeable about Christianity.  However, many 
Muslims do not, and Muslims interested in dialogue will have to 
work to overcome the reluctance and fears of others in their own 
community; the same is true for Christians.  The Orthodox, for 
exmaple, have responded only hesitantly.  Still, Ayuso had not 
heard of any overt opposition within the Muslim world to "A 
Common Word".  Ayuso emphasized the need for Christians to 
support open-minded Muslims and help Islam progress after 
centuries of intellectual stagnation.  The Islamic world needs 
reform, and the signers of "A Common Word" have taken the 
initiative to accelerate that reform.  Christians should not 
miss this chance to help that process.  At the same time, the 
Christian response must proceed at the right pace; it will not 
do to rush ahead.  Expectations have already become high.  Apart 
from the delicacy of the Christian-Muslim dialogue itself, each 
side must also take great care to coordinate internally -- by no 
means an easy task. 
¶5. (C) Cardinal Tauran observed that there is "no separation" 
between religion and politics in Islam, and that in dealing with 
Islam one is always in a sense dealing with the entire 
population. He said Muslims tend to be very sensitive, having a 
kind of inferiority complex.  Tauran recalled that after his own 
comments to the French daily La Croix (October 2007) suggesting 
theological difficulties in Catholic-Muslim dialogue, Muslims 
were "very offended" and challenged his right to define their 
¶6. (C) "A Common Word" changed the reality for everyone, and now 
"we are condemned to dialogue" as Tauran put it.  Pope Benedict 
XVI is adamant that this dialogue develop properly, and it will 
be a great challenge for the Church for the next fifty years. 
The Church has an obligation to help in the formation of younger 
Muslims, and to aid the renaissance of intellectual life in 
Islam.  (Note:  Tauran was careful to distinguish between Arabs 
and Iranians in this context, observing that Persian culture has 
always been very sophisticated.)  The Church must work with Gulf 
countries, which are open-minded; and with the new generation. 
Much depends on the Saudis.  Tauran said he was not privy to 
last November's conversation between Saudi King Abdullah and the 
Pope, but understood that the conversation had remained at a 
fairly abstract level and was also thus far essentially confined 
to the two principals; there was no lower-level substantive 
coordination, nor has there been detailed followup. 
¶7. (C) Apart from theological issues, Tauran said American 
Middle East policy is a major factor in dialogue with Islam. 
Muslim publics look at the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq -- 
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with US forces on the soil of Muslim countries -- and tend to 
see them as instances of Christianity versus Islam.  Resolution 
of the Israeli-Palestinian situation is the most critical 
factor.  More specifically, resolution of this conflict would 
certainly lead to improvements in interreligious dialogue, and, 
conversely, failure to progress toward resolution would 
inevitably limit the potential of interfaith dialogue.  Tauran 
expressed great interest in President Bush's recent Middle East 
travel and his remarks during that trip.  He suggested that 
President Bush must have seen first-hand the difficulties of 
ordinary Palestinian life when his own motorcade had to pass 
through Israeli checkpoints at Ramallah.  The Israelis, said the 
cardinal, claim that access to international holy places has 
never been so easy as it is now, with those holy places under 
Israeli control; but this is simply not true in his opinion, 
even though "they don't like it when I say so". 
Relations with Orthodox 
¶8. (C) Bishop Farrell said dialogue with the Orthodox falls into 
two distinct patterns.  With the Byzantine world, dialogue is 
going very well, perhaps even too fast to keep up with.  The 
exchange programs for students and priests established by 
Catholics in past decades are now being reciprocated by the 
Orthodox.  With the Russian world, things are more formal and 
difficult.  They consider themselves the true Orthodox; the 
Greek Orthodox are in a weak position to contest this, given 
their problems with Turkish policy.  The Russian church acts as 
an arm of Putin's policy, though the situation has improved 
lately.  Catholic dialogue with Russian Orthodox tends to 
stumble unnecessarily when, for example, minor disagreements are 
blown out of proportion.  (For example, the Missionaries of 
Charity -- Mother Teresa's organization -- are not really 
engaged in missionary work, i.e. conversions, but the name has 
caused problems in Russia.) 
¶9. (C) Farrell said the Russian church is "free" for the first 
time in centuries.  The younger generation is more interested in 
relations with Rome.  Thinking for example of Russia's harsh 
demographic realities, Farrell noted that the Russian church 
will need to step up its ministry to the spiritual needs of the 
country in the hard years that lie ahead.  Farrell mused that 
Catholics expect the faithful to participate as individuals in 
their religion, whereas Russian Orthodox retain a more 
collective understanding of religious identity.  In addition, 
many of their priests are old and never received any proper 
religious formation.  The Knights of Malta are helping address 
this problem. 
¶10. (C) Cardinal Tauran also commented on relations with the 
Orthodox, saying they have their own channels for interfaith 
dialogue, but are beginning to take seriously the idea of 
cooperating with other Christian denominations in this regard. 
Tauran said he met (Greek Orthodox) Patriarch Bartholomew last 
fall in Naples and discussed this, and had also talked about it 
with (Russian Orthodox) Patriarch Alexy. Like Farrell, Tauran 
pointed out that the Russian Orthodox were essentially cocooned 
for 70 years, and it will take time for them to fully 
reintegrate into interfaith dialogues; they have an inferiority 
complex of their own. 
¶11. (C) As the above conversations make clear, the Holy See is 
very serious about its various dialogues with other major 
religions.  The dialogue with the Orthodox is relatively mature, 
with some modest signs of progress now evident on centuries-old 
disputes -- though the path ahead will be long and difficult. 
With Islam, on the other hand, the "Common Word" initiative has 
emerged rather suddenly and has stimulated real enthusiasm, 
mixed with deep-rooted caution.  Tauran's skepticism is evident, 
but his commitment is genuine.  Post will continue to report on 
these interfaith relationships with particular attention to 
their political echoes, and looks forward to hearing from other 
posts about local reaction to these trends.