Professor withdrew from interreligious gathering after realising he was being asked to ‘accompany the Pope on a pilgrimage’

British philosopher A C Grayling has withdrawn from attending an interreligious event to promote world peace hosted by the Vatican.

Although the professor of philosophy had originally planned to attend the third “Prayer for Peace” in Assisi, Italy, he later changed his mind on discovering that it was an event for pilgrims.

Professor Grayling told The Catholic Herald: “I thought it was originally to have a discussion with the Pope about the place of religion in society but then it turned out it was a minor event and what they wanted was these guests to accompany the Pope on a pilgrimage. So I decided to withdraw.”

The invitation to Professor Grayling is surprising given his criticism of Pope Benedict XVI in the run-up to the papal visit. In May 2010 he wrote an article for the Independent entitled, “Why no Asbo for the Pope?” stating: “Is the Pope in any danger of receiving 100 hours of community service for hiding hundreds of paedophiles from the law all round the world? Is he likely to get an Asbo? Or has he been invited to the United Kingdom as an official visitor who will meet the Queen and be feted and courted, secure in the knowledge that efforts to arrest him and put him on trial for heading a huge criminal conspiracy will fail?”

Pope Benedict is reported to have invited several other prominent non-believers to the interreligious event in Assisi, in accordance with the Vatican’s “Courtyard of the Gentiles” project, which seeks to promote discussions between Christians and non-believers around the world.

Other atheists expected to attend and participate in a panel discussion include French philosopher Julia Kristeva, the Italian professor Bodei Remo and Mexico’s Guillermo Hurtado, founder of the philosophy magazine, Dianoia.

The event is due to take place next week to mark the 25th anniversary of the first Assisi gathering. The inaugural event took place in 1986, under Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate, and drew together many Christian denominations and members of other faiths.