Vatican reaches out to atheists – but not you, Richard Dawkins
By JEROME TAYLOR - THE INDEPENDENT
Added: Mon, 31 May 2010 13:48:44 UTC
The Vatican is planning a new initiative to reach out to atheists and agnostics in an attempt to improve the church's relationship with non-believers. Pope Benedict XVI has ordered officials to create a new foundation where atheists will be encouraged to meet and debate with some of the Catholic Church's top theologians.
The Vatican hopes to stage a series of debates in Paris next year. But militant non-believers hoping for a chance to set senior church figures straight about the existence of God are set to be disappointed: the church has warned that atheists with high public profiles such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens will not be invited.
The "Courtyard of the Gentiles", as the foundation is known, is being set up by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the influential Vatican department that is charged with fostering better relations with non-Catholics. It was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1982 to spearhead his attempts to create a better dialogue with other cultures and faith, including those with no religion at all.
Until recently, Pope Benedict has shown less enthusiasm for the type of open-armed ecumenism favoured by his predecessor. In the past five years, the Vatican's relationship with other faiths has been severely undermined following a series of gaffes by the current pontiff, including a speech on the Prophet Muhammad that upset Muslims and the reintegration of an excommunicated Holocaust-denying bishop that severely undermined Catholic-Jewish relations.
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