Vatican diplomat and president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (pictured), said the Vatican would respond formally to the Muslim scholars, but he raised concerns among the Muslim signers when he told French Catholic newspaper La Criox he was not sure dialogue was possible between the two faiths.
"With some religions, (dialogue is possible), but with Islam, no, not at this time,” Cardinal Tauran said.
“Muslims do not accept the possibility of discussing the Quran, because it is written, they say, as dictated by God.
"With such a strict interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the content of faith," he said .
Aref Ali Nayed, one of the original signers of the letter and senior adviser to the Cambridge Interfaith Program at Britain's Cambridge University divinity faculty, told Catholic News Service, the Cardinal’s words were “very disappointing indeed".
“His comments have deeply discouraged Muslim scholars and annoyed many Muslim believers at the grass-roots level," Nayed said.
"Rather than unilaterally declaring the impossibility of theological dialogue with Muslims, Cardinal Tauran would have been wiser to ask Muslim scholars themselves as to what kind of dialogue they feel is possible, from their point of view,” he said.
Jesuit Fr Daniel A. Madigan, who serves as a consultant to the commission for relations with Muslims at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said many Christians misunderstand how Muslims view the Quran, leading to a widespread prejudice that assumes Muslims are unwilling or incapable of interpreting the Quran.
"Any act of reading is an act of interpretation: Some Muslims read the Quran as warranting violence, while others do not interpret it that way. Some think it requires the seclusion of women, many others disagree.
"At a time when a substantial group of Muslim scholars of widely varying persuasions is trying publicly to promote a theological dialogue with Christians, it seems imprudent to rule out the very possibility of such an engagement," he said.
Fr Madigan said the basis for theological dialogue with Muslims was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council in its document on relations with other religions and in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which said Christians and Muslims "adore the one, merciful God."
Scholars troubled by Vatican official's remarks on Muslim dialogue (Catholic News Service, 31/10/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
La Croix (on-line)
A Common Word (Offical Web Site)
Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue
Islamic scholars appeal to Pope (CathNews, 12/10/07)
Pope challenges Islam on religious freedom (CathNews, 16/05/06)
Australia's moderate Muslims a sign of hope, Pell says (CathNews, 19/09/06)
Vatican official encourages deepening of Catholic-Muslim dialogue (CathNews, 29/05/03)
1 Nov 2007