Vatican establishes ‘Courtyard of the Gentiles’

This, I think, is a great idea:

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 “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.

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We have outreach offices for every faith under the sun; it only makes sense to offer that same dialogue to those of no faith at all. To that end, there is one important caveat about who may participate:

[M]ilitant 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 foundation, [Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture] said, would only be interested in “noble atheism or agnosticism, not the polemical kind – so not those atheists such as [Piergiorgio] Odifreddi in Italy, [Michel] Onfray in France, [Christopher] Hitchens and [Richard] Dawkins”.

I’m sure Hitchens would have some snide comment to make about that, but “discussing” has never been so much his strong point as attacking and mocking — and I’m sure he has no interest in “improving his relationship” with the Church. By doing an end-run around the polemicists, the Vatican is at least giving the effort the chance to produce some interesting conversation and real understanding. It’s a smart move.

Of course, I may be overly optimistic here. What do others think of the initiative?

[H/t to the Deacon’s Bench]



  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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