Pope Benedict XVI stepped down at the end of February as the leader of the world-wide Roman Catholic Church. While his decision most directly affects members of that tradition, it will also have an impact on how Catholics might relate to other religious traditions in the future.
Pope Benedict was noted for his contributions to interfaith dialogue, and in a multi-religious world, a new Pope will have to understand how to respect the rights and dignity of other religious traditions without compromising on his own faith.
Leaders of other religious traditions have observed the challenges in this transition. "The quality of Catholic Jewish relations has been a kind of litmus test for us in terms of the openness of peoples of different religions to the Jewish community and to cooperative understanding and endeavor, and therefore it feels of vital concern to us," ( Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism). "What he says matters in a lot of communities and so the stature of the pope is extremely important in that sense. But also the fact that we live in a very small world when it comes to interaction," (Haris Tarin, Muslim Public Affairs Council). "The heart and soul of humanity is lived out among people of faith in every tradition and so I will be joining the world in praying for the next pope," (Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Diocese of Washington). All quoted in PBS's Religion and Ethics.
"... he has presented a moment in which the church has the opportunity to assess its historical practices about how the pope provides leadership both now and for the future. The Pope's decision opens up the possibility for serious discussion and exploration about how in this modern era the papacy understands its role, its practice of leadership, its structural context, its division of labor and scope of responsibility," (Dr. James A. Donahue, President, Graduate Theological Union).
And from a Catholic with long experience in interreligious dialogue: "If (and that remains a big “if”) the new Pope wishes to move interreligious relations to a new level I see three interrelated challenges before him. The first will be how to handle the strong emphasis on evangelization and dialogue that has been central in the past several years of Benedict XVI’s time in office... The second challenge is whether the Catholic Church truly believe it has some new insights to gain for its own religious self-understanding from interreligious dialogue. ..Finally, there is need for the new Pope to continue the process of acknowledging that the Catholic Church over the centuries has treated other Christians as well as people in other faith communities with contempt that has sometimes led to outright suffering and persecution. There must be a clear acknowledgment that the institutional church itself and its leaders were responsible and not merely some wayward individuals. This is not a requirement for authentic dialogue merely for Catholics. But Catholics cannot exempt themselves from this process if a positive culture of dialogue is to emerge. (John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago and Board Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions) quoted in the Parliament blog.