Only Benedict could go to Assisi…

A little while back, John Allen had a piece called “Only Benedict could go to China”. His basic argument was

Precisely because of those credentials [viz. “Benedict XVI is unquestionably a “conservative”], however, the old American axiom that “only Nixon could go to China” fits Benedict XVI like a glove. Because of who Benedict is and what he represents, every once in a while he can do things a more “liberal” pontiff either wouldn’t dare or couldn’t pull off without splitting the church apart.

I think that applies perfectly to the latest announcement that Benedict will go to Assisi for the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s famous 1986 Interfaith Peace gathering in the home town of St Francis. There have been various criticisms, including that of the leader of the SSPX. Fr Z. even admits that he is cool about such “ecumenical” occasions (nb. he is using the term “ecumenical” incorrectly here; those of us in the “business” make a clear distinction between ecumenism, which is about seeking unity among Christians, and interfaith relations, which is about getting along with everybody else).

The 2011 meeting at Assisi will not be a replay of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an event in which I participated officially when it was here in Melbourne in 2009. Much that the latter event achieved was good and wholesome, but there were certainly aspects of it with which I could not agree. There is something called the “Interfaith Movement” which is decidedly syncretistic, but that is entirely different from the aims and methodology of Catholic interreligious dialogue. Between 1986 and 2011 we have the 2000 statement “Dominus Iesus”, which was authored by Joseph Ratzinger (inter alia) and signed by the same pope who inaugurated the Assisi gatherings, Ven. (soon to be Blessed) John Paul II. There is much about the 1986 gathering that could be criticised in hindsight, but, also in hindsight, we must interpret 1986 through the prism of “Dominus Iesus”.

One thing that I have noted about the Catholic Church is that it is confident of its own identity and faith. So confident, that it is not afraid to encounter people of other religions on a level playing field (the field may be level, even if the teams aren’t!). There is little argument today – and in fact was little argument in 1986 – that the Roman Pontiff is the foremost religious leader in the world today. No other religious leader carries the clout that he does. Only the Pope could call such a meeting and expect the world’s religious leaders to come at his invitation. Given that he has such clout, it is clear that Papa Benny intends to use it for the good of humanity as a whole and the welfare of the Christian family in particular. Calling a gathering of world religious leaders (and all people of good will) to pray for peace and religious freedom is precisely the sort of thing that Catholic interreligious dialogue is all about.

There is no reason to fear this new meeting in Assisi. On the contrary, there is everything to hope for it and from it. It is a good thing.

For further reference see:

Fr Z. on William Oddie’s piece.
Fr Z. on Bishop Fellay’s reaction.
Sandro Magister on this and other matters.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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2 Responses to Only Benedict could go to Assisi…

  1. Terra says:

    While I agree that there is nothing to be concerned about on this event (quite the contrary, I see this as a chance for the ghosts of Assisi I to be finally put to down forever) given Pope Benedict XVI’s clear vision on interreligious issues, I do find Mr Oddie’s unreconstructed ultramontanism a tad bizarre!

    I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised given some conservatives’ similar approach to the words and actions of the soon to be Blessed, John Paul II (an outcome where one can only point to the similarly disastrous reigns of sainted Popes such as Celestine V as precedents for personal holiness coupled with administrative incompetence and poor judgment) .

    The bottom line is that Catholics do not have to think that everything a Pope does or says is infallible or beyond criticism.

    And the case for Assisi I having doing a lot of damage is pretty strong.

  2. matthias says:

    I was going to ask if William Oddie is in fact BILL ODDIE of THE GOODIES TV team??
    However i can recall my fundo proddy dad saying at the time that JP2 held the first Assisi even ,that “get ready son,this is the one World Super Church coming to fruition”. an attitude still held by many Evangelicals in the Protestant world and Charismatics .
    As you said Schutz the catholic church is “is confident of its own identity and faith.” and thus i believe that Pope Benedict may spell out respect for other religions whilst clearly not giving way on the uniqueness of Christianity. would be different if the Moderators of some of the united protestant churches were running the event!!!

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