C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VATICAN 000134
DEPT FOR G, S/P, S/GPI, AND S/SRMC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2019
SUBJECT: AN INVENTORY OF THE VATICAN’S INTERFAITH DIALOGUES
REF: A. 08 VATICAN 87
¶B. VATICAN 124
¶C. 08 USUN 1126
¶D. VATICAN 106
¶E. VATICAN 122
¶F. VATICAN 100
¶G. VATICAN 126
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CLASSIFIED BY: Julieta Valls Noyes, DCM, EXEC, State.
REASON: 1.4 (b)
¶1. (SBU) Summary: The Vatican is a leader or partner in many
inter-religious dialogues, primarily with the “Abrahamic”
religions - Islam, Judaism, and of course, other Christians.
Vatican leaders are also beginning to reach out to Asian faiths.
This cable describes the Vatican’s primary, organized
dialogues. Septels: A) analyze why the Vatican pursues
interfaith dialogue, and B) propose USG-Holy See collaboration
in support of such discussions. End Summary.
Dialogues with Muslim Communities and Nations
¶2. (SBU) Formal, modern-day Vatican dialogue with the Muslim
world goes back for over a decade. It intensified following
September 11, 2001, and again after the controversy that erupted
over Pope Benedict XVI’s September 2006 address in Regensberg.
Some of these dialogues have delivered concrete results; others
remain largely symbolic. Following are the formal,
institutionalized Vatican dialogues with Muslims:
— Partnership with the Jordanian Royal Institute of Inter-Faith
Studies. Held its first colloquium on “Religions and Civil
Society” in Rome in 2009. Will meet every two years. The next
meeting will be in 2011 in Amman or Rome. (Note: This
institute is distinct from the Aal al-Bayt institute which is
part of the Catholic Muslim Forum). (See www.riifs.org.)
— “A Common Word”: The Catholic-Muslim Forum: First met in
Rome November 4-6, 2008. Muslim delegates - both Sunni and Shia
- selected by the Amman-based Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic
Thought. Final declaration called for religious freedom,
protection of minorities, respect for religious symbols, and
equal rights. Will meet every two years: 2010 Forum may meet in
Jordan or another Muslim-majority country (ref a). (See
— Saudi-sponsored dialogue: Initiated by Saudi King, through
the Mecca-based Muslim World League (a.k.a. the Rabita). King
of Spain hosted the first meeting in Madrid on July 18, 2008.
Second meeting held on margins of 2008 UNGA, attended by
then-President Bush and eighty-plus other senior officials.
Participants criticized terrorists who claimed to act in the
name of religion. Two additional meetings held in Vienna and
Geneva; latest resulting in agreement to create secretariat —
and possibly new center — for interreligious dialogue in
Vienna, Austria (refs B and C). (See www.world-dialogue.org )
— The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions
First held in 2003. Meets in Astana, Kazakhstan every three
years. The next meeting will be in 2012. (See
— Coordination Committee of the PCID and the World Islamic Call
Society (WICS) of Libya. The focus of this meeting is relations
between Muslims and Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, where the
WICS is active. First held in 2002. Meets every two years in
Tripoli or Rome. Next meeting in 2010.
— The Joint Committee for Dialogue between the PCID and the
Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, for
Dialogue between Monotheistic Religions. First held in 1998.
Meets at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo every year.
— Dialogue with Center for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the
Islamic Culture and Relations Organization in Iran. This
Vatican partnership with Iran’s Islamic Guidance Ministry dates
back to 1995. The subject of a recent meeting was “Human
dignity with special reference to bioethics.” Meets in Tehran
every two years. The next meeting is in 2010. (See
— The Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee of the International
Forum for Dialogue. First held in 1995. Meets in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia, every three years. Next meeting in 2012. (See
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Other Avenues for Catholic-Muslim Encounters
¶3. (SBU) The Holy See and the Arab League established diplomatic
relations in 2000. The League has a representative to the Holy
See based in Rome, and the Vatican’s representative to the
League is the nuncio in Cairo. The Holy See and the League
signed a Memorandum of Understanding on April 23, 2009, to
strengthen joint projects to promote peace and dialogue,
especially on the political and cultural levels. The Memorandum
was signed by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See’s
Secretary of Relations with States, and Arab League Secretary
General Amr Moussa. Vatican officials note that the MOU has not
yet led to any concrete initiatives or dialogues.
¶4. (C) The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue
signed a “Declaration of Intent” with the Department for
Religious Affairs of the Turkish Prime Minister’s Cabinet on
April 25, 2002. Its aim was to promote inter-religious
dialogue, in particular by facilitating collaboration between
academic institutions. Progress in discussions with the Turks
is not coming quickly. The Vatican is disappointed that the
former Church of Paul of Tarsus is now a Turkish government-run
museum. The Vatican also supports Orthodox demands to reopen
the Halki seminary in Turkey, have the GOT recognize the
Ecumenical Patriarch as an international religious leader, and
grant greater religious freedoms to Orthodox and other
¶5. (SBU) Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the
Inter-Religious Dialogue Council, travelled to Indonesia in
November 2009. It was the first visit of the Vatican’s top
dialogue official to Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority
country in the world — 206 million out of a population of 240
million. (There are 7 million Catholics in the country.)
Vatican and Indonesian officials continue to discuss concrete
initiatives for follow-up to this visit.
The Other Monotheistic Faiths: Jews and other Christians
¶6. (SBU) Unlike relations with Islam, Vatican relations with
Jews are characterized by substantial theological common ground
and historic roots. Discussions between the two religions are
ongoing and broad-based. They are often intersected by
politics, and sometimes hurt by missteps. The Vatican’s
long-standing dialogue initiatives with the Jews prospered in
the years since the Vatican II Council removed obstacles to good
relations. They took a big hit in January 2009, however, when
the Vatican restored communion to a schismatic Catholic group
that included a Holocaust-denying bishop. After considerable
effort by the Vatican and the Pope himself, relations have been
largely mended and were solidified with the Pope’s visit to the
Holy Land in May 2009. Nevertheless, the proposed conferral of
sainthood on WWII-era Pope Pius XII and access by historians to
the archives of his pontificate are recurring irritants in the
relationship (ref D).
¶7. (SBU) Meanwhile, Vatican officials speak constantly with
followers of other Christian faiths in ecumenical dialogue
intended to overcome divisions between Christians. Indeed, the
Vatican has a separate Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
(which for historical reasons also covers dialogue with Jews).
These discussions have their ups and downs. While the Vatican
move in November 2009 to welcome disaffected Anglicans to the
Catholic Church dealt a blow to ecumenical understanding (ref
E), the rift is healing in part because few Anglicans will
probably take advantage of the Vatican offer. Meanwhile,
relations with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow — who
commands the allegiance of a large number of Orthodox and is
thus arguably more influential than Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew — have improved. (ref F). This has allowed Moscow
and the Vatican to upgrade their “special character” to “full
diplomatic” relations (ref G).
¶8. (SBU) Ultimately, the monotheistic nature and shared historic
roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — all “people of the
book” - make dialogue between these three religions easier for
the Vatican in some ways than discussions with other religions.
An important interfaith meeting including senior leaders of the
world’s major monotheistic religions, Christians (Catholic and
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Orthodox), Jews and Muslims, took place in Seville, Spain,
December 6-8, 2009. The King of Spain’s “Three Cultures, Three
Faiths” Foundation sponsored the event. (VATICAN 124).
Outreach to Asian Faiths
¶9. (C) Despite the difficulty for the Vatican of finding common
ground with polytheistic religions, Holy See officials are
starting to do just that in an effort to support peace,
religious freedom, human rights, and local solutions to local
problems (see septel). Cardinal Tauran travelled to India in
June 2009 for initial dialogue with Hindus. Tauran’s goal was
to go beyond the positive assurances that had characterized
previous meetings with Hindu leaders. Specifically, he sought
to bridge the gap between his Indian interlocutors’ stated
goodwill and the continuing hostility toward Christians in parts
of India like Orissa, especially by some Hindu nationalists.
The Vatican also raised concerns about Indian anti-conversion
laws — although they have not been enforced. Cardinal Tauran
also traveled to Japan in August 2009, to initiate discussions
with Buddhists and other Asian faiths.
¶10. (SBU) Comment: Tauran acknowledges quietly that the Vatican
has not paid sufficient attention to relations with Asian
religions. He is not an expert on polytheistic religions and is
unlikely to find — or even seek — common theological ground
with their precepts. Instead, as he and his Council increase
their outreach to these communities, they will challenge their
interlocutors to remove obstacles to the enjoyment of religious
freedom for all. End comment.
¶11. (C) The number and scope of the Vatican’s inter-religious
dialogues is unparalleled by that of any other church or
organization in the world. The dialogues are already effective
in preventing or smoothing over misunderstandings and tensions.
The big question is how to translate into concrete actions the
high moral principles that the world’s major religions bring to
the dialogue table. Septel includes proposals for USG
engagement with the Vatican in support of interreligious
understanding and action.