A New Pope and What It Means for Interreligious Dialogue

Rebecca Cohen, State of Formation, Feb.14

Who will become the next Pope? What will the Church look like under this new Pope?

Inter-religious relations are one of the particular subjects in flux. Following the pontificate of Pope John Paul II with its many watersheds in dealing with other religious traditions, many saw the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), known as the Vatican’s “Enforcer of the Faith” due to his hardline doctrinal approach as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a step backwards in terms of inter-religious relations. And while his pontificate did not provide the same momentum in terms of inter-religious dialogue as much of his focus was on repairing internal rifts within the Church, concerns about relations between Catholics and other traditions were largely unfounded. Entering his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI brought with him a deep respect for other traditions and despite some swerves in the road, inter-religious relations continued to progress, especially in the waning months as inter-religious relations came to the fore.

In looking to the future, many are hoping that the next Pope may bring new perspectives on many issues, including the place of inter-religious dialogue in the Church. Speculation over the outcome of the impending conclave has already begun. And the men short-listed as most likely to fill the soon to be sedes vacans (lat. empty chair) of Peter, called the papabile, have quite impressive inter-religious track records (though not all). Despite this, the lingering fear is that in a Church that continues to concern itself evermore with internal building and hot-button issues, the fringe, where dialogue has always been pushing our understanding, is in danger of being forgotten. The eyes of the inter-religious world will be turned on Rome to see the future emerge.

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