Learning to Listen

Benedict XVI & Interreligious Dialogue

The controversy over Pope Benedict’s September lecture in Regensburg and his use of the now infamous quote from Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus condemning Islam was a perfect storm. But it was not the first time that stern words and brusqueness have been associated with Joseph Ratzinger.

We need only to think of the various notifications on theologians and matters of church discipline, the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (1989), Relativism: The Central Problem for Faith Today (1996), and Dominus Iesus (2000). In 1997, for example, the cardinal described Buddhism as a seductive spiritual eroticism that seems to offer happiness without obligations, and judged it a greater challenge to Christianity than Marxism.

Benedict’s sharply honed ideas and blunt speech have given offense in some quarters for years. But in most such instances, the makings of a storm were lacking: sometimes his points were well taken; at other times, critics within the church lacked sufficient status to insist on further conversation; insulted outsiders-Protestant theologians or Hindus or Buddhists-were in the end not concerned enough to pursue any given quarrel with vigor. But the dispute over the pope’s Regensburg speech compounded the right mix: brusque style, relentless logic, a complex issue, an inexplicable citation of a truly offensive five-hundred-year-old text-and...

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About the Author

Francis X. Clooney, SJ, is Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.