One of the more important moves of this papacy has been the reshaping of ecumenism. The Pope has been moving slowly and carefully on this, as seems to be his general approach. But he has been moving.
And now it looks like another big step is coming, in the form of new guidelines for interreligous dialogue which are currently being drafted.
What he has done so far
Early on in his papacy the Pope moved early to put the greatest emphasis on relationships with those closest to the Church doctrinally, and with whom there is therefore more hope of unification, such as the Orthodox. He is made it clear that the object of ecumenism is to reunite those separated from the Church to full communion, not just to 'understand' each other.
He has made it clear that the fullness of truth lies with the Church, and those separated from it to whatever degree lose some of their power to witness to Christianity as a result of that separation. During his visit to the US (April 18, 2008) he said:
"Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called "prophetic actions" that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition.
Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of "local options". Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia - communion with the Church in every age - is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23)."
He has opened the way to large-scale conversions to the Church, such as happened recently with the 3,000 members of the Assyrian Apostolic Church of the East (with more to come, one hopes in the form of Traditional Anglicans, assorted groups of Traditionalists, and others).
He has made the limits of ecumenism clear, by his refusal to water down the doctrinal content of the Good Friday Prayers for the Jews. And he has refused to kow-tow to political correctness in relation to Islam, publicly baptising a muslim convert, and making it clear that dialogue with them is at the level of two civilizations or cultures looking for ways to co-exist, and nothing more than that.
The next step
In a speech on Saturday to a plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue he made it clear that those who participate in ecumenical dialogue have to start from a firm grounding in their own faith:
"Interreligious dialogue is nourished by an adequate formation in the faith and by a profound knowledge of the beliefs of others..."
He also said:
“...great proliferation of interreligious meetings in the world today requires discernment.”
So I'm guess we are going to see some tightening up both on who participates in these things, and the priority of them. Yay!
Also interesting are the comments of the President of the Council, Cardinal Tauran as reported by Zenit:
“As Christians,” Cardinal Tauran said, “we are convinced that God alone is the absolute truth and that he has opened the human heart to the desire for truth,” and that “that all men and women are called to know and live such truth.”
Nevertheless, he added, “it is necessary to reach a delicate balance between the proclamation of the truth and the respect of the spiritual journey and freedom of conscience of persons.
“Charity presupposes the welcoming of the other in his diversity," said the cardinal, "but it also implies the duty of sharing our religious patrimony with him.”
The new guidelines should be interesting indeed.