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For the second time, the Vatican has thrown its weight behind the argument that extreme religious fundamentalism can pose a threat to civilization. This strikes me as a big deal:

"It falls to all interested parties - to civil society as well as to states - to promote religious freedom and a sane, social tolerance that will disarm extremists even before they can begin to corrupt others with their hatred of life and liberty ... Human pride hampers the acknowledgment of one's neighbor and the recognition of his or her needs and even more makes people distrusting. Today, that same negative fundamental attitude has given rise to a new barbarism that threatens world peace."

That's the Vatican's spokesman at the U.N. I have said many negative things about this Pope. But I've have also tried to recognize the positive things he has done, when appropriate. His first Encyclical on agape was sublime; he has at least addressed the terrible crimes of Father Maciel; his intellectual engagement with the irrational in Islam was courageous, and his defense of God-as-reason important in a world where God-as-unreason is increasingly dominant. This latest indirect address shows that this Pope sees the terrible danger religious extremism poses to our modern world. He is still sadly mistaken in my view in several areas, and far too restrictive of Catholic dialogue and reform. The hideously anti-gay Instruction - and its implicit bigotry - remains a deep stain. Religious extremism, moreoever, is not restricted to Islam, although that is where our current crisis is coming from. Its spread within Christianity is deeply worrying. But credit where due: this Pope is getting some big things right; and using his powerful voice to speak the truth. I'm not afraid to change my mind. On this Pope, it's changing.

(Photo: Andrew Medicini/AP).

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