Italians ask how long Pope can remain silent on Tibet
Pope 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. 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.
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 he 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?