Half a century after Nostra Aetate, ignorance rules, says Vatican leader on inter-religious dialogue

Catholics and Muslims do not know each other well enough, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, has said.

This is “despite 50 years of Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s document on inter-religious relations,

Speaking earlier this week about Catholic-Muslim relations, Cardinal Tauran added, “Most of the problems we face are problems of ignorance.”

Cardinal Tauran made his remarks in a keynote address at the conference Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue With Jews and Muslims, held at The Catholic University of America, Washington, and co-sponsored by the university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The conference was being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the document’s promulgation, which took place on October 28, 1965.

For Christians entering into dialogue with Muslims, Cardinal Tauran said, they need to understand that Islam is at the same time a religion, a political system and a civilisation. “It’s a very complex reality,” he added.

Nostra Aetate came about because St John XXIII wanted some sort of document along those lines for Vatican II but he died in 1963, before the council could consider it,. Some delegates to the council did not want to have such a document come up for discussion, Cardinal Tauran explained, and when discussion finally took place, “some bishops from the Middle East were concerned about this problem” that the draft of the document spoke only about the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and that this would not sit well with Muslim civic and religious leaders in the region.

“It soon became clear that ‘Nostra Aetate’ had nothing to do with (the state of) Israel,” Cardinal Tauran said, and the document was modified to include Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faith systems.