Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pope Francis: Refused Meeting with Dalai Lama, Rebuffed Tutu to Increase Vatican Influence in Asia


Pope Frances refused the Dalai Lama’s request for a meeting on December 11, 2014, because “the Holy See’s relationship with the Chinese government is currently going through a very delicate – a crucial in fact – phase. In recent weeks China appeared to be reaching out to the Vatican, signaling a willingness for dialogue.”

“I am deeply saddened and distressed that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, should give in to these pressures and decline to meet the Dalai Lama,’” South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement.

China has been waging a “calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of Tibet‘s national and cultural identities,” often personified by their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The pope’s choice was a victory for China. “[T]he attention of public opinion in the West to the Dalai Lama is going down by the day,” a Chinese official said on December 19, 2014. “The Dalai Lama also has no good ideas. All he can do is use his religious title to write about the continuation or not of the Dalai Lama to get eyeballs overseas,” he added.

The pope is trying to increase his influence in Asia and China is key to his success.

Five months after his trip to South Korea, the pope will visit first Sri Lanka January 12-15 and then the Philippines January 15-19. “For us Filipinos, (the pope) is really the representative of Jesus on earth, so it’s like Jesus coming to the Philippines,” said one priest. So this journey is sure to end in the pope’s most triumphal foreign trip to date.

On January 4, the pope announced the creation of 15 new cardinals; five are from Asia or the Pacific Rim: Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok, Thailand, trained in Rome. Archbishop Pierre Nguyên Văn Nhon of Hà Nôi, Vietnam, where the Vatican has “flourishing bilateral diplomatic relations.” Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Myanmar is president of that country’s Bishops Conference. Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi of the Island of Tonga is president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Pacific. Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand (Pacific Rim), was recommended by Australian Cardinal George Pell, head of all Vatican finance and administration.

Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo of Cotabato, Philippines, and Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo jung of Seoul, Korea, were elevated to cardinal last January.

In August 2014, Lord Christopher Patten, a former head of the BBC and the last British governor of Hong Kong, was put in charge of restructuring the Vatican’s media operations. The “Vatican Insider” introduced a new section in Chinese.

Also in August 2014, the ordination of three new bishops in Hong Kong on China’s doorstep was the first time since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 that any bishops have been ordained in the former British colony. One of the new bishops is head of Opus Dei for East Asia. Another new bishop is a member of the Vatican commission for the Catholic Church in China.

The first indication of Pope Francis’ aspirations in Asia was the appointment in July 2013 of George Yeo to one of the commissions organized to study Vatican finance and his later assignment to the new Vatican Council of the Economy along with Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong Hon. Yeo is the first layman from Asia given an important position in the Vatican. He graduated from Cambridge University and Harvard Business School and is a former Minister of Finance for Singapore and a brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Forces. He is on the advisory board of Harvard Business School and Opus Dei’s IESE Business School.

After becoming an archbishop in 1996, Pell invited Opus Dei to establish themselves in Melbourne and then Sydney when he became head of that archdiocese in 2001.

During the pope’s trip to South Korea, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi “referenced the pope’s earlier remarks about opening dialogue with the Asian nations with which the Vatican has no diplomatic ties. While China is the obvious case here, Father Lombardi also ticked off North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei and Bhutan as countries with which the pope would like to build ties.

Relations with China

China is making remarkable efforts (for China) towards warming relations with Pope Francis. One bone of contention has been appointing bishops. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is run by the government and has its own bishops. The underground Catholic Church has remained loyal to Rome and has bishops appointed by the pope.

“Approved by both the Holy See and the Communist government,” Bishop Paul Xiao Zejiang dedicated a new Catholic church in October 2014 “months after churches in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang were slated for demolition”

The next month, “China has proposed to the Vatican a joint system of appointing bishops in a move that raises hopes of a breakthrough in relations.”

“[I]nterested parties in the Vatican received the message loud and clear.” An article published by a pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper “recalls how grateful China was for the words Pope Francis dedicated to the ‘beautiful and noble Chinese people’ on the return flight from South Korea to Rome. It plays down the question of the Holy See’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan, claiming that Vatican’s leadership is working on a solution that is acceptable to everyone, to be implemented when discussions begin regarding direct diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican.”

After the pope rejected a visit from the Dalai Lama, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said China had “noticed” and that his government is always “sincere” about improving relations with Vatican.

“We are in a positive phase” and “I would go as far as to say that prospects look promising” even though the journey “has not come to an end yet,” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, responded.

“’More pro-active’ phase of political engagement”

“On the heels of a major diplomatic coup in paving the way for restoring US/Cuba relations… the Vatican is entering a ‘more proactive’ phase of political engagement,” Parolin said on January 6.

During the November 17-19 conference at the Vatican with “American Religious Right leaders” and “opponents of LGBT equality from around the world” at which Pope Francis gave the opening address, the pope confirmed he would be visiting the U.S. in the fall of 2015.

“I think the Pope will go to United Nations, everybody is speaking about that,” Parolin noted. He added that “of course” a papal visit to the nation’s capital city of Washington, D.C. is possibly in the agenda but he stressed that “no official confirmation has been made.”

(Betty Clermont is author of The NeoCatholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))

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