Italians ask how long Pope can remain silent on Tibet

March 18, 2008

A demonstrator holds a placard against the Olympic Games in Beijing in front of the IOC headquarters in LausannePope Benedict is just about the only world leader not to have said anything about the events in Tibet. This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Italy, where some commentators have been urging him to speak out — and others have been defending him for not doing so.

A story in the March 18 edition of Corriere della Sera quoted Antonio Socci, a Catholic writer and intellectual, as calling the Pope’s silence “the latest error by the Secretariat of State headed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone“. In the same article, Giorgio Tonini, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party, said he was at first surprised that the Pope had not spoken out against the violence in Tibet during his Palm Sunday Mass. He said he later remembered reading a book by the the late Cardianl Agostino Casaroli, who was secretary of state for much of the reign of the late Pope John Paul. In the book, Casaroli spoke of the “martyrdom of patience” he had to go through when dealing with the communist countries of the former Soviet Bloc.

Not all commentators were critical. Andrea Riccardi, one of the founders of the Sant’ Egidio Community, said no one should expect the Vatican to “behave like a news agency” and react to every international crisis.Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful during a Palm Sunday mass in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican Gian Maria Vian, editor-in-chief of the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano, defended the Vatican’s prudence and said it was “premature” to start a polemic. The Pope could speak out about Tibet in the coming days, perhaps at Wednesday’s general audience or one of the events during Holy Week, Vian said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Liberal.

The Osservatore itself has run news reports on the events in Tibet, as has Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops conference.

Given the delicate relations between the Vatican and Beijing, it is no surprise that the Pope has been waiting before making any comment. Last year, a Vatican official told reporters in October that the Pope had scheduled a meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader living in exile, while Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama gestures while speaking to the media at his residence in Dharamsalahe was on a visit to Italy. But on November 26, the Vatican did an about face and announced that “no audience is planned”. Between the time of the first announcement and the change of plans, Beijing had warned the Vatican that such a meeting would “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

Given the Vatican’s desire to improve its sometimes frosty relations with China, it’s a safe bet that when and if the Pope speaks out about Tibet, he will choose his words very carefully.

What do you think the Pope’s position on events on Tibet should be? Should there be an automatic solidarity among religious leaders in situations like this, or do other factors play into the decision about what to say?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

No “government” is about to get involved, as there is no nation, particularly the USA, strong enough morally, spiritually, militarily, politically, or most critically economically to resist China.
But us “common” folks do have those powers. There are 5 Billion of us (including you) non-Chinese (PRC)on the planet. If each of us spends $10/month LESS on “Made in China” stuff the economic impact on China will be tremendous, and sudden. Economic Power = Military Power. Cripple the one and the other has no punch or staying ability. Don’t count on any “government” to do much at all. It’s up to each and every one of us, you and me included, to weaken China’s strangle-hold on Tibet.

Posted by Tucano Fulano | Report as abusive

The answer is quite simple really: The Pope feels personally responsible for the 20 million Catholics in China, ten million of which are underground, that is, they refuse to worship in state approved churches. I am sure he thinks of the Cardinals, Bishops and priests who have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed. I am sure he thinks of the suffering Christians in labor camps. If Pope Benedict comments about Tibet, it will effect no change for Tibetans. But there may be real suffering as a result.

Send criminal Dalai Lama to burn in Iraq together with Bush.

Posted by Leon Bernotas | Report as abusive

To Tucano Fulano and his cohorts: why are you people so sure of what is happening in China and Tibet? Please don’t say anything about making China weakening it’s strangle-hold on Tibet. Tibet is part of China, like every other part of the country, China will never lose its grips on its territorial integrity.
You people accept everything put out by the Dalai Lama, Tibetan govt. in exile and a host of other pro-Tibet independence lobby groups as absolute truth. You can’t think and search for yourselves objective answers. You accept all the hysteria, exaggerations such as cultural genocide, population decimation and so on so forth as truth, when the simple fact is ethnic Tibetans are in greater numbers than ever.
When you are ready for objective assessments, I’ll pass on the links.
The Pope was doing something very prudent. Chinese leadership will not be dictated to. Tibetan cause can not be advanced by an international chrous of vitriolic, irrational condemnation.
Melody seems to have the right idea. The Catholic church is thriving inside China despite all the adversaries. It thrives because it does not have a lobbying industry like that of the pro-Tibet mob to annoy the Chinese leadership. If the Catholic church deviates from that narrow path, or outsiders take control of the agender, you can forget about the Vatican ever re-establishing a toe hold. China may one day host the largest Catholic population in the world. The stake is too high for the Pope not to think and act independently of populist but flawed sentiments

Posted by Ming | Report as abusive