Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican’s Interfaith Point Man, Is Dead at 75

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in 2007, the year he was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a champion of interfaith dialogue as a top Vatican diplomat and the man who announced Pope Francis’s election to the world, died on July 5 in Hartford. He was 75.

The Vatican, which announced his death, said he had been treated for Parkinson’s disease for years.

At his death, Cardinal Tauran was camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, the official who takes care of the church’s administration during the transition between the death or resignation of a pope and the election of his successor.

But he was best known for his work as the Vatican’s foreign minister, from 1975 to 1983, which gained him a reputation as a tireless behind-the-scenes diplomat. That reputation persuaded Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 to appoint him president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, shortly after the pope gave a speech in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as calling Islam “evil and inhuman,” offending Muslims and spurring protests against the Roman Catholic Church all over the world.

When Cardinal Tauran traveled to Saudi Arabia three months ago to meet King Salman and sign a cooperation accord with the Saudi authorities, he said that people everywhere were threatened “not by the clash of civilizations, but by the clash of forms of ignorance and radicalism.” Over the years, in his speeches to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, he reiterated that all men and women of good will should work for dialogue and tolerance.

“Dialogue is not for the consumption of the community,” he said in a 2013 interview. “It’s at the service of society.”

Cardinal Tauran made a distinction between Islam and those who commit acts of terrorism in Islam’s name. “It must be clear that the defenders of the oppressed are not the terrorists but the believers, along with men and women of good will who do not profess religion,” he commented after the terror attacks in Paris in 2015.

In 2003 he was a vocal opponent of the invasion of Iraq, as was Pope John Paul II. He called the invasion a choice between “the force of law and the law of force,” implying that the United States was veering toward the latter.

In later years he was the Holy See’s librarian and archivist, a job more in line with his frail health.

Jean-Louis Tarran was born in Bordeaux, France, on April 5, 1943, to Pierre and Yvonne (Eymas) Tauran. He was ordained a priest in 1969.

He is survived by a sister, Geneviève Dubert.

He entered the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1975 after studying philosophy, theology and canon law at the Pontifical French Seminary and at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. For 13 years he held posts in the United States, the Middle East and Europe, and he later represented the Holy See at international conferences as the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states.

Made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003, he participated in the conclaves that elected both Benedict and Pope Francis. As the most senior deacon in the College of Cardinals, it was Cardinal Tauran who announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s on the evening of March 13, 2013, that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina had been chosen the first Latin American pope (and the first to take the name Francis).

In a sign of esteem and personal closeness, Pope Francis fully participated in Cardinal Tauran’s funeral. Instead of just presiding over the commendation, as is customary, he attended the entire Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica seated next to Cardinal Tauran’s coffin.

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