The pope has offended some followers of other faiths but may be mending fences

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[Pope] Benedict is the head of a church that has been grappling for decades with how it should treat other religions. After the reforms of the 1960s, the Vatican moved, at least rhetorically, into a much more liberal era, recognizing publicly that all religions represented some form of fundamental truth, seeming to leave some of its more conservative theology behind. John Paul II, for one, carried this rhetoric into his papacy, meeting not just with Jewish and Muslim leaders but with members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well, while writing and speaking about the activity of the "spirit" beyond the confines of the church itself and implying that other religions, too, might offer a path to some form of salvation.

Benedict seems to want to clarify this position, experts say, and to re-emphasize the primacy of the Catholic Church, and Jesus Christ, among faiths. He took his most visible step in this direction in 2000 when, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican organization tasked with safeguarding church doctrine, he oversaw the release of a church document, Dominus Iesus, that sought to restate the church's theological position. The document acknowledged that the "Church of Christ" was present in other Christian churches but insisted, in spite of John Paul's friendly words, that the Catholic Church was the only one where it existed in its fullest form. A theological line was drawn in the sand: "If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace," the document said, "it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

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