Why Oriana Fallaci Received a Papal Audience

Part of Benedict XVI's Talks With Intellectuals, Says Auxiliary Bishop

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ROME, SEPT. 6, 2005 (Zenit.org).- An auxiliary bishop of Rome explained why Benedict XVI granted a private audience to Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci.



The Pope's meeting with the 76-year-old journalist -- who has stirred controversy since Sept. 11, 2001, because of her pointed criticisms of Islam -- took place discreetly Aug. 27 in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome.

News of the audience was revealed days later by Italian news sources -- neither Fallaci nor the Vatican press office had made it public.

The press gave extensive coverage to the papal audience, since in her book, "The Force of Reason," Fallaci described herself as a "Christian atheist" and accused the Church -- the Pope at the time was John Paul II -- of "favoring and benefiting Islam."

On other occasions, Fallaci acknowledged her admiration for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) because of his defense of the foundations of European culture and of the Christian roots of the Old World.

"Interpreter of our times"

Today, in an interview with the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, Auxiliary Bishop Rino Fisichella clarified the motives for the papal audience with Fallaci.

"That the Pope should receive Oriana Fallaci and talk with her should not surprise anyone, unless they have evil intentions," Bishop Fisichella told the newspaper.

"She is an interpreter of our times, raises a sign of alarm on a danger, and asked to speak with the Pope in a reserved way," he said. "The Pope accepted. There is nothing more to it."

Although Fallaci "is not a believer, she has reflected much -- as she said in a recent interview -- on Cardinal Ratzinger's invitation to nonbelievers to behave 'as if God existed.' A 'brilliant' invitation, as she described it," added Bishop Fisichella.

The 54-year-old prelate, who is also rector of the Lateran University, said that the journalist's meeting with the Pope did not have a political character.

"It is set in a cultural horizon. It forms part of the meetings with learned men and women that Cardinal Ratzinger always had and that Benedict XVI will continue to have," said the auxiliary bishop. "Meetings of many kinds: public debates, like the ones he had with Jürgen Habermas and Paolo Flores d'Arcais; co-authored publications, like the one he had with Marcello Pera, president of the Italian Senate; and private meetings which have remained reserved, as this one with Fallaci should have been."

The meeting was of a private character, the bishop continued, "because that's as she requested it."

Bishop Fisichella expressed the hope that Fallaci, "a brilliant writer and extraordinary journalist, will include Benedict XVI in the list of the great personalities she has interviewed."