From our Special Correspondent in Rome
FRESH initiatives in the rapidly widening dialogue with atheism were announced this week by Cardinal Koenig, Archbishop of Vienna and head of the new Vatican Secretariat for Non-Believers.
His remarks—echoing in many ways the section on atheism which is being incorporated into the Vatican Council's Schema 13—were given added emphasis by the appointment of the first 22 members of his Secretariat, among whom is Bishop Holland of Salford.
"The Secretariat for NonBelievers," Cardinal Koenig said, "does not intend to prepare for or wage any war against atheism. It wants to reduce the hatred and distrust in the world, study atheism in its different forms, examine the concrete forms it takes, and, generally, orientate its work so that study of this contemporary phenomenon can become a reality in Universities and ecclesiastical institutes.
"The Secretariat will also be concerned with the position of Catholics and members of other religious denominations hying under Communist regimes, in order to see that they should be allowed to enjoy their just and necessary liberty."
SOME CHANGES Earlier, the Cardinal had given some indications of the results of a preliminary study which has already been carried out by the Secretariat. This showed, he said, that Marxist atheism was the most dangerous form of atheism which had yet appeared in the world because it was a "pseudoreligion" whose official attitude seemed to be fixed and immutable.
The study has discerned, however, some changes of attitude towards religion in French, Italian and Yugoslav Marxist atheism, which contradicted the official Soviet position in some respects and did not admit of the policy of coercion exercised towards believers in the Socialist countries.
"Some Marxists," Cardinal Koenig said, "are now favourable to a collaboration with Catholics and try to show that even orthodox Marxism can allow peaceful coexistence between ideologies.
"There have been certain changes of attitude, without doubt. But without wishing to judge too much in advance, it is difficult to say just now bow much this change indicates a manoeuvre to attract believers and how much it represents a genuine evolution towards a position which takes religion into account as a spiritual need of man in society."
LIMITATIONS While the new Secretariat, it is realised in Rome, has immense possibilities, it also has definite limitations, The Cardinal was careful to spell • in order to avoid pu3s1oit. disappointments.
There would be no contact with atheistic governments, no pa t .ci Fl 1 inn in the political inaraii. I is of atheism, and no individual initiatives, he said. The role of the Secretariat was to carry out research and to pass on the results of this work to the Bishops.
In spite of the evident caution expressed in the limited terms, it is clear that the work of the Secretariat has already been given a considerable impetus.
• A working group of Catholic prelates and World Council of Churches representatives has just finished a four-day meeting at Arriccia near Rome, where they discussed three topics of interfaith interest.
The 14 members, including Bishop Holland of Salford, discussed the ecumenical dialogue, co-operation among the Churchein welfare services and the nature of Communism.