Date: April 21, 2005
Location: Tampa, Florida, U. S. A.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) (www.hinduamericanfoundation.org) greeted the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy with a degree of caution and concern. While HAF congratulated the Roman Catholic Church on electing a new leader, many members expressed apprehension over some of the most influential and widely quoted statements given by Cardinal Ratzinger prior to his papal election.

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was the primary impetus behind the Vatican document Dominus Jesus, released in 2000. This document is uncompromising in its declaration of the Roman Catholic religion as the only true path to salvation and describes other religions, including other Christian denominations, as “gravely deficient” and misguided pursuits.

HAF noted with strong concern that the authors of Dominus Jesus called for a new evangelism while disparaging pluralism as "indifferentism" and "relativism." In a widely quoted interview given in 1997, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who outraged many people when he denigrated Hinduism as a religion of “false hope” that guaranteed salvation based on a “morally cruel” concept of reincarnation resembling a “continuous circle of hell” and Buddhism as “autoerotic spirituality.”

“While we felicitate Pope Benedict XVI as he assumes the leadership of Roman Catholics throughout the world,” said Mihir Meghani, M.D., President of HAF, “We sincerely hope that the pope will reconsider his prior unfortunate reflections on other faiths that are followed by billions throughout the world, specifically his unequivocal rejection of religious pluralism — a concept central to the Hindu ethos.”

The new Pope Benedict XVI was a close confidant of the late Pope John Paul II. HAF members were hopeful, that though Pope John Paul II had issued an unfortunate call for the “harvest of souls” to Christianity in India in 1999, the new pope would further the spirit of Pope John Paul II’s statement in Colombo, Sri Lanka on January 21, 1995: “Interreligious dialogue is a precious means by which the followers of the various religions discover shared points of contact in the spiritual life, while acknowledging the differences which exist between them. The church respects the freedom of individuals to seek the truth and to embrace it according to the dictates of conscience, and in this light she firmly rejects proselytism and the use of unethical means to gain conversions.”

HAF called on the new papacy to consider seriously the global repercussions that occur when religious institutions exert claims of an exclusive hold on truth. “Much conflict and suffering results when religious leaders or traditions claim a monopoly on Truth while denigrating other faiths,” said Pawan Deshpande, member of the HAF Executive Council. “It is difficult to uphold world peace and the brotherhood of all human beings if our religions divide us into hostile camps of believers and non-believers. As Hindus, we ask that Pope Benedict XVI lead his Church to an enduring relationship with Hinduism predicated on mutual respect and the precepts of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.”

For further information: Please contact HAF.