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Iranian media have hailed the April 30 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Iranian clergy as a propaganda victory for the Islamic Republic. The meeting was the sixth in a regular series of encounters between Iranian clergy and the Holy See. The Iranian news agency carried the following item today:

TEHRAN, May 02 (ISNA) — Spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI in a meeting with Iran’s delegation to Vatican called for utmost cultural and religious cooperation between the two sides.

He regarding faith and reason discussed in the recent dialogues between Islam and Roman Catholic Church said “Faith and reason are the two things that the world needs them today more than any other time and this is our duty to provide this need for the society.”

He also appreciated Iranian delegation for its present “Holy Quran” calling it a precious book.

Head of Iran’s Islamic culture and relations organization Mahdi Mostafavi responded Iran is ready to expand cultural and religious cooperation with Vatican. [ sic ]

The message the Vatican intended to send to Tehran, however, seems quite different. Among the eight Catholic representatives at the meeting was Prof. Vittorio Possenti of the University of Venice, a signator of a 2005 open letter denouncing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for what it called his “crazy anti-Semitic declarations” against the State of Israel. The open letter and an associated demonstration against the Iranian embassy were organized by a group that included Magdi Allam, whom the pope received into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

The Catholic and Iranian sides published seven points of agreement in the May 1 Osservatore Romano , on the subject of faith and reason. They are (in my translation):

(1) Faith and reason are both God’s gifts to humanity.

(2) Faith and reason do not contradict each other; although faith can in some cases be above reason, it never can be against it.

(3) Faith and reason are intrinsically nonviolent. Neither reason nor faith should be used for violence; nonetheless, at times, both have been ill-used to perpetrate violence. In any case, these events cannot place reason or faith in doubt.

(4) Both of the parties agree to cooperate in furthering authentic religiosity, and in particular spirituality, to promote respect for sacred symbols and moral values.

(5) Christians and Muslims should proceed from tolerance, recognizing differences, remaining aware of things they have in common, and giving thanks for these to God. They are called to reciprocal respect, that is, to condemning derision of religious creeds.

(6) Generalizations should be avoided when speaking of religion. The differences between the confessions within Christianity and Islam as well as the differences in historical context are both important factors to be taken into consideration.

(7) Religious traditions cannot be judged on the basis of a single verse or passage in their respective sacred texts. A holistic vision and an adequate hermeneutic method are necessary for their correct comprehension.

The declaration is unexceptionable in itself, but it is troubling that the Holy See gave the Iranian side the opportunity to aver principles on paper that it desecrates in practice. The Islamic Republic routinely supports terrorism to further its agenda. In 2005, Argentine prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for eight serving and former Iranian officials, including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, for plotting a 1994 bombing that killed 85 and wounded 300 at a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

According to Catholic World News, Iran hopes that the Vatican will help it counter American and European pressure:

Tehran, Apr. 29, 2008 ( — L’Osservatore Romano has cited the words of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praising the Holy See for its diplomatic efforts.

During an April 6 meeting with the new papal nuncio in Iran, Archbishop Jean-Paul Gobel, Ahmadinejad said that the Vatican has been a positive force for justice, peace, and the protection of human rights around the world, L’Osservatore reported. Iran has been maneuvering to secure the support of the Holy See to counteract hostile pressure from the US and European nations. In 2005, Argentine prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for eight serving and former Iranian officials, including former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, for plotting a 1994 bombing that killed 85 and wounded 300 at a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

Although the private message the Holy See delivered to Iran was quite different, it is hard to dispute the Iranian claim of a propaganda victory. In his September 2006 Regensburg address and subsequent statements, Benedict XVI has challenged Islam with the assertion that faith must be supported by reason. The Iranian mullahs affixed their signatures to this proposition without a second thought. That is the Catch-22 of debating with unreasonable people, for the least reasonable people, in the extreme case clinical paranoids, are most persuaded that they are, in fact, very reasonable indeed.

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