The new pope of the Catholic empire has put the rebel alliance of Assisi and its dialogue with Hindus and Buddhists in check:
In a decree published Nov. 19, the pope placed the Franciscans in Assisi under the… control of a new local bishop… The edict overturned autonomy granted in 1969 by Pope Paul VI that in effect made the Franciscans ambassadors to peace movements and to outside cultural and religious groups… So far, [Pope Benedict's] reign has been an exercise in the tightening of practice to match church doctrine as he sees it… [Link]
Rise, Lord Ratzinger. What bugs the new pope about those hippie-dippy Franciscan friars: respectful, tolerant interfaith exchange. Why, those reasonable bastards.
In the view of critics, few places within the church challenged Catholic certainties more flamboyantly than Assisi. In particular, interfaith meetings held in the hilltop town appeared to them to be a kind of food court of dangerous relativist thinking.
… Benedict was settling scores with the Franciscans over a “carnival-like” interfaith meeting they hosted in 1986. Voodoo priests, American Indian dancers and African animists took part… The Franciscans went beyond agreed-upon rules by allowing pagan worship practices to take place on church property, and Benedict “never forgave the Franciscan community for the excesses…” [Link]
Voodoo, Native Americans and animists are fine, but what really gets the good pope’s robes in a twist are Hindus and Buddhists:
“… during [the previous pope's] voyage to India, he had given speeches of unprecedented openness toward that country’s religions, and at Bombay had even let a priestess of the god Shiva anoint his forehead with a sacred Hindu symbol…”
Some of the city’s churches were allotted for the prayers of Buddhists, Hindus, and African animists, as if these buildings were neutral containers, void of any indelible Christian value. The Buddhists set up a shrine of Buddha on the altar of the local Church of Saint Peter. The absence from Assisi of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [the new pope]… was not improperly interpreted as… self-distancing… [Link]
Hinduism, he said, offers ‘false hope’; it guarantees ‘purification’ based on a ‘morally cruel’ concept of reincarnation resembling ‘a continuous circle of hell’…… [Link]
What horror. Part of the church’s issue with Hinduism and Buddhism is a well-developed theology which makes conversion more difficult:
The pope maintains that there are religions that are by nature “particularly close to Christianity,” like the animist religions of Africa, from which conversion to the Gospel can come more easily. But he formulates an opposite judgment concerning the “great religions of the Far East”: Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism. These “are of a systematic character,” and are thus far less penetrable. This explains why, in these regions, “the missionary activity of the Church has born, we must acknowledge, very modest fruit…” [Link]
The peaceable Baha’is got shafted as usual:
The next Assisi interfaith meeting, in 2002, was low-key compared with the one in 1986, and several commentators saw Ratzinger’s hand behind the changes. Fewer groups were represented, and some religions, including American Indian and Bahai, were replaced by Asian sects with larger followings. [Link]
The 2002 interfaith gathering in Assisi yielded this bit of sweetness. As Rodney King once slurred, c-c-can’t we all just get along?
I wish to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Hindus on this happy occasion [Diwali]…. I would like to conclude by sharing with you the strong impression which the image of lighted lamps made on me during the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi last January. The representatives of different religions held lighted lamps in their hands and after their common commitment they placed the lamps on a common stand, symbolizing the convergence of hopes and efforts for peace. The pope blessed them, saying: “Go forward into the future holding high the lamp of peace. The world has need of light!” Happy Diwali. –Cardinal Francis Arinze [Link]