His ministry is likely to serve as a guiding light for the Church’s ongoing dialogue with Islam, now one of the Holy See’s top priorities
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, an experienced interlocutor between Catholicism and Islam and who in 2013 announced Pope Francis’ election to the world, has died aged 75.
The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue had for years been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and died while receiving treatment in the United States. At the time of his death he was staying with Franciscan religious sisters in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut.
As the “protodeacon” of the College of Cardinals - the most senior cardinal deacon - it was Tauran who stepped out onto the balcony of St Peter’s on the evening of 13 March 2013 to declare that the first Latin American Pontiff had been chosen.
Later, in December 2014, Francis named him the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, a role that requires its holder to govern the church during the interregnum period between papacies.
Despite his declining physical strength, the French prelate persevered with his work in building bridges with the Muslim world and in April undertook a visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with King Salman.
“What is threatening all of us is not the clash of civilisations, but rather the clash of forms of ignorance and radicalism,” he said during his time in Riyadh.
An experienced papal diplomat, the cardinal was Pope John Paul II’s foreign minister for 13 years before being put in charge of the Vatican’s library and secret archives and being given a red hat.
But his diplomatic skills that were put to the test when, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI put him in charge of the interreligious dialogue role, a job that requires both solid grasp of understanding of international politics and a deep knowledge of a vast array of religions and cultures.
The German pontiff announced his new interreligious point man a few months after his 2006 Regensberg speech where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said Mohammed and brought only “evil and inhuman” things.
It was a mark of Cardinal Tauran’s skills that he was able to both open up new channels of dialogue with Islamic leaders while at the same time refuse to shy away from areas of tension and difficulty.
He combined a deep respect and knowledge of Islam along with behind the scenes encouragement of reform-minded Muslim scholars and leaders.
One of his key objectives was to ensure Christians and other minorities were granted “citizenship” within Muslim-majority countries, and his ministry is likely to serve as a guiding light for the Church’s ongoing dialogue with Islam, now one of the Holy See’s top priorities.
"You have to remember that interreligious dialogue is not dialogue between religions. It's dialogue between believers,” he once explained. “It's not a theological, philosophical exercise. First you have to accept that we live in a world that's plural: culture, religion, education, scientific research. Every human being has a religious dimension. Between believers we try first of all to know each other. And the first thing you have to do is to proclaim your faith because you can not build that dialogue on ambiguity.”
Following the 2015 Paris terror attacks the cardinal admitted that such crimes “decrease the credibility of inter-religious dialogue” but stressed those who carried out the atrocities “don't follow true Islam.”
Born in Bordeaux in 1943 he studied for the priesthood in Rome and soon after his 1969 ordination the young priest entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service where his postings included the Dominican Republic and Lebanon. In 1983 he was called back to Rome to work in the Secretariat of State and remained in Vatican-based roles for the rest of his ministry.
Renowned for his sense of humour and a gentlemanly pastoral style, he was a trusted collaborator to three Popes and served in various important advisory roles across the Roman Curia including on the boards of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), known as the Vatican Bank and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), the central treasury.
Along with Islam, he developed good relations with Buddhist leaders saying stressing at the end of last year how important the Pope’s trip to Buddhist-majority Myanmar had been in showing “mutual respect” between religions.
He also had warm relations with the Anglican Church and was friends with both the late Canon John Andrew, the former Rector of St Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York, and Canon Roger Greenacre, who was described as the “pre-eminent English interpreter of the Church of England to the French Church.” When the late Canon Greenacre celebrated 50 years of his priesthood at Chichester Cathedral, the cardinal travelled from Rome to attend as the guest preacher at the eucharist celebration.