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.
However, the Vatican is not putting out the welcome mat for some people:
But in an interview with the National Catholic Register, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, made it clear he would not be willing to give a platform to certain prominent atheists.
The foundation, he 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”.
In a speech to the Roman Curia back in December, the Pope first hinted at his plans to reach out to atheists.
“We, as believers, must have at heart even those people whoconsider themselves agnostics or atheists,” he said. “When we speak of a New Evangelization, these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us.”
There are strong indications emanating out of Rome that the 83-year-old pontiff also intends to create a new ministry aimed at bringing lapsed Catholics in the West back towards the more traditional interpretation Benedict and fellow conservatives favour. The Catholic News Agency says the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization will be “aimed at bringing the Gospel back to Western societies that have lost their Christian identity”.
I was agnostic for about seven years (much to my regret), so I’ll be the first to applaud efforts to reach atheists and agnostics with the Gospel. I pray this planned foundation bears much fruit, bringing many souls to Christ. May it help skeptics come to realize, as I did, that rather than walking in freedom they are simply stumbling through a wasteland that leads nowhere. I’m not completely sure what they mean by “noble atheism and agnosticism” (as that strikes me as an oxymoron), but I suspect they’re making a sound decision by excluding (in)famous atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens, as they and others of their ilk probably aren’t interested in serious dialogue anyway.
Amen! Lord, send forth (holy and dedicated) laborers into the harvest.