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INTERRELIGIOUS-TAURAN (SECOND UPDATE) Jun-28-2007 (680 words) xxxi

Pope names French Vatican official to head interreligious council

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI named a French cardinal with extensive diplomatic experience as the Vatican's new coordinator of interreligious dialogue.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 64, will become president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican's main liaison agency with Islam, Sept. 1.

Cardinal Tauran, a 28-year veteran of the Vatican's diplomatic service, is known as a savvy and sometimes outspoken specialist in international affairs. For 13 years, he was Pope John Paul II's "foreign minister," the official who dealt with all aspects of the Vatican's foreign policy.

Pope Benedict announced the appointment during a June 25 visit to the Vatican Library and the Vatican Secret Archives, two institutions Cardinal Tauran has headed since 2003.

In his new role, the cardinal will be responsible for overseeing the Vatican's dialogue efforts with representatives of other faiths, including Muslims.

Last year the pope placed the interreligious council under the wing of the Pontifical Council for Culture, leading to speculation that he intended to downgrade the Vatican's interfaith efforts.

By placing Cardinal Tauran in charge of the dialogue council, the pope has instead raised its profile.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Tauran said he considered his appointment "a sign of the importance Pope Benedict gives to dialogue between religions, in particular with Islam."

"Therefore, he wanted the council to recuperate its autonomy in order to be a more effective instrument in the service of this dialogue," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Tauran said he thought the controversy in 2006 over the pope's lecture in Regensburg, Germany, had a "decisive influence" on the pope's decision to restore autonomy to the council. The pope's remarks on Islam in that speech prompted negative reaction across the Muslim world but were followed by important bridge-building encounters with Muslim leaders.

Cardinal Tauran said his diplomatic experience, including knowledge of the Middle East and the Arab world, was also an important factor in his appointment.

Although most of his diplomatic work was behind the scenes, Cardinal Tauran is perhaps best remembered in the United States for his pointed criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the buildup to the invasion, the cardinal criticized the concept of preventive war and said a unilateral war against Iraq would be a "crime against peace."

Over the years, Cardinal Tauran was called upon many times to spell out the Vatican's position on the Holy Land, which is home to Christians, Muslims and Jews. In 1998, he miffed Israeli leaders when he said Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem was illegal and a matter of "manifest international injustice."

More recently, in 2004, Cardinal Tauran addressed a conference on Muslim-Christian dialogue in Qatar. He told participants that political leaders have nothing to fear from true religious believers.

"Believers who are recognized and respected for who they are will be more inclined to work together for a society of which they are full members," he said.

Born in Bordeaux, France, April 5, 1943, the cardinal was ordained in 1969 and in 1975 entered the Vatican's diplomatic service. He worked in apostolic nunciatures in the Dominican Republic and Lebanon from 1975 to 1983, then was called to work in the Secretariat of State.

He was a representative to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1983 to 1988, pressing the Vatican's position on human rights at a time when the Soviet-bloc regimes of Eastern Europe were weakening. He was named undersecretary for relations with states in 1988 and became secretary of the department in 1990.

Pope John Paul II ordained him an archbishop in January 1991 and named him a cardinal in 2003.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald headed the interreligious council until February 2006, when Pope Benedict made him apostolic nuncio to Egypt. At that time, the pope asked French Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to do double duty as head of the interreligious council.

Cardinal Poupard, who turns 77 in August, is expected to retire soon.


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