No papal bull after Vatican meets artists

Pope Benedict XVI recently played host in the Sistine Chapel to some 250 international artists, including Andrea Bocelli, Peter Greenaway, Krzysztof Zanussi and Placido Domingo F. Murray Abraham and U.S. video artist Bill Viola, a rare outreach from the Vatican toward the movers and shakers in contempo culture.

Once dubbed “God’s Rotweiler” for his archconservative views, Benedict XVI blandly urged the invited helmers, thesps, scribes, musicians, artists and architects to embark on a “quest for beauty.” The pontiff sought “to re-establish a dialogue” between the church and artists, as Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, director of the Pontifical Council for Culture, put it.

That dialogue has not been helped in the past. The Pontifical Council for Culture only days ago railed against “New Moon,” calling the global tween phenom “nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message.”

The pontiff’s P.R. effort may have succeded, at least in part, even though only half of the 500 invited artists made the Vatican City trek. The no-shows included Bono and Italo auteur Marco Bellocchio, who justified his absence, calling Benedict’s position against the use of condoms in Africa “a crime.” The rest of the local film community went for face time with the Pope in full force including Giuseppe Tornatore, who praised Benedict’s speech as “a caress to culture at a time when it only gets plenty of slaps.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more