Vatican praises Muslim call for dialogue

But says theological debate is difficult

138 Muslim scholars have invited Christian leaders to enter a dialogue


Pope Francis prays at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

By PARIS (Reuters)

The top Vatican official for Islam has praised a novel Muslim call for dialogue but said real theological debate with them was difficult as they saw the Koran as the literal word of God and would not discuss it in depth.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, in an interview on Friday with the French Catholic daily La Croix, also said Christians would have to discuss curbs on building churches in the Islamic world in the dialogue advocated by 138 Muslim scholars in the appeal.

His interview, coming after mostly positive comments by other Catholic Islam experts, signaled the world's largest Christian church wanted a serious dialogue with Muslims that did not avoid some fundamental issues dividing the religions.

"Muslims do not accept that one can discuss the Koran in depth, because they say it was written by dictation from God," Tauran said. "With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith."

The fact that Muslims can build mosques in Europe while many Islamic states limit or ban church building cannot be ignored, he said. "In a dialogue among believers, it is fundamental to say what is good for one is good for the other," he said.

The appeal last week by 138 scholars representing a large majority of Islamic views invited Christian leaders to a dialogue based on their common belief that love of God and neighbor is the cornerstone of their religions.

Catholic response is key

The appeal was addressed to all leading Christian churches. Anglican, Lutheran and evangelical leaders and the World Council of Churches have all welcomed it.

But the reaction of the Roman Catholic Church, which makes up more than half of the world's two billion Christians, is key to any coordinated Christian response to the Muslim appeal.

Zauran praised the appeal as "an eloquent example of a dialogue of spiritualities" that showed good will by quoting not the Koran only -- as Muslims usually do -- but also the Bible.

The appeal avoided major differences such as the roles of the Prophets Jesus and Mohammad (PBUH), but Tauran brought up one about the Koran.