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Vatican to reinstate office for outreach to Muslims

Pope was faulted for closing it in '06

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI plans to restore a Vatican office that specializes in relations with Muslims a year after he was criticized for disbanding it.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said in an interview in an Italian newspaper that the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue would be separated from the Vatican's cultural office and restored to its former status .

He said the move shows the importance the Vatican attaches to dialogue with other religions.

Vatican officials said yesterday it was not known when the change would be announced or whether Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, an Englishman who is considered a top Islamic expert, would be brought back from his current post as papal envoy in Egypt.

When Benedict announced in early 2006 that he was transferring Fitzgerald and merging his office with the Vatican's office for culture, some analysts worried that the Vatican would be left without a resident expert in Muslim affairs at a critical time.

Church relations with Muslims were badly strained after a speech by Benedict in Germany in September that linked Islam to violence. Benedict said he regretted that Muslims were offended.

In November, the pope visited predominantly Muslim Turkey.

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