Benedict in the US

The premier example of this was his Regensburg lecture of September 2006 in Germany, widely criticized at the time as offensive to Islamic sensibilities. That lecture, in fact, has shifted both the course of inter-religious dialogue and the internal dynamics of the intra-Islamic debate, precisely as I believe Benedict XVI intended it to do. It has shifted the course of the dialogue by setting in motion a process that has now led to the formation of a Catholic-Muslim forum that will meet twice a year, once in Amman, Jordan, once in Rome, and that will focus its attention on the issues that Benedict XVI has put on the agenda – namely, religious freedom as the first of human rights and a right that can be known by reason, and secondly, the imperative of separating spiritual and political authority in a justly governed state.

There have been attempts from parts of the Islamic world to deflect the conversation off of these two issues, which Benedict regards as at the very heart of inter-religious dialogue, and indeed the Islamic encounter with the modern world, and he refuses to budge. He very calmly and quietly brings the conversation back to these two points, which obviously have a great resonance here in the United States.

In terms of shifting the dialogue, I would also point to the recent initiative by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who proposes to gather in his country a new forum of dialogue among the monotheistic religions, and the Vatican’s reported negotiations, about which John might have some more to say later, with the Saudi government over the unthinkable, or the hitherto unthinkable, namely the building of a Catholic church in Saudi Arabia.

* * *

On the pope and the church in the United States and on American society and culture, very briefly. As you read the works of Joseph Ratzinger, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years as he has become more and more concerned with the corrosive impacts of an aggressive secularism in Europe, you have to be struck by the fact that he comes on several occasions in his writing to the point that it was in the United States that the problem of church and state was first resolved. And when he says problem of church and state, he doesn’t simply mean institutional relationships, questions of establishment and non-establishment, legal relationships; he means more broadly the problem of religion and modernity.

George Weigel The Pope comes to America