Pope takes flak in Myanmar, and in the Vatican too

Things are not looking too happy in the Holy See where Pope Francis' penchant for rubbing conservatives up the wrong way is leading to talk of a schism. In Myanmar, by contrast, he has enraged the liberal media by not visiting Rohingya refugee camps. This is a pope who tells it as he sees it, and isn't afraid to take the flak

Pope Francis with a once respected dissident
Tim Hedges
On 4 December 2017 13:26

Pope Francis, papa Bergoglio as he is known here, is beginning to look more impressive, if not as a pope, as a Jesuit and as a priest.

As pope he is head of a small nation and is expected to have the kind of diplomatic savvy and Machiavellian management techniques required to keep his nation functioning. The qualities needed for this and those required for the priesthood are almost, but not entirely, mutually exclusive. Francis is better at the priestly bit.

Almost nothing could better illustrate the type of pope we have than this past week. At home, in the Vatican, he is bored and restless; Francis has no understanding of the intrigue and politicking which have been the norm there for centuries.

A chance remark, to the effect that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if there were some married priests, has sent the Curia’s blood pressure to 1,000 over 80. Some think he does it to test the waters for his ideas (in this case the waters are at tsunami level), some think he does it just to rub the conservative cardinals up the wrong way.

A conservative cardinal, who had been sacked by Francis, has said that he had been asked to lead a faction opposing the pope’s policies. He of course had been too loyal (!) to accept the position. He mentioned however that some of Francis’s statements seemed to attack the dogma -- the fundamental beliefs -- of the church. The word ‘schism’ has been mentioned..

This is unprecedented. Things are not looking too happy in the Holy See.

This unease at home is to be contrasted with the papal visit to Burma. Here, instead of receiving international adulation but curial disgruntlement, it was the reverse. Support from within the Church seems grudgingly positive, whilst the reaction from the outside world has bordered on the venomous.

Francis went to Myanmar and to Bangladesh without visiting the Rohingya refugee camps just an hour away and agreed when in Myanmar not even to mention the word Rohingya.

The world, which has done little or nothing to help these poor people, adopted a puffy outrage. The liberal media declared the pope had betrayed the Rohingya. But all is not as it seems.

The pope’s adviser on the area, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, had advised his Holiness that extreme candour (a hallmark of Francis’s utterings) could place the Christian minority in Myanmar (around 3 million) at risk of persecution themselves.

The pope, in  his press conference on the plane home, made it clear that he had several times publicly in Rome mentioned what he thought of the Rohingya crisis and his views were well known. He had made it a condition of the trip that he met with Rohingya but did not know until the last moment what form that meeting would take.

Francis said he had spoken to General Hailong and that he had remained reserved in public in order to be blunt in private. When asked by Reuters whether in meeting the General he had used the word ‘Rohingya’ he replied (translation by Catholic News Agency) ‘I used the words to get to the message and when I saw the message was accepted I dared to say everything I wanted to say’.

The whole world saw Francis ask the Rohingya for forgiveness.

I have been critical in the past of the style of this papacy but on this occasion Francis appears to have done all right. He knows that his very presence there speaks volumes and that he doesn’t need to slag off his hosts to make a point. The point, however, has been made and the eyes of the world drawn to Rakhine.

Francis said in answer to whether he regretted not having spoken the word Rohingya while in Myanmar (again the CNA translation): ‘Your question is interesting because it brings me to recollect on how I seek to communicate. For me the most important thing is that the message arrives and for this I seek to say the things, step by step, and listen to the answers so that the message may arrive.’

Actually, this is not how Francis usually seeks to communicate. Perhaps it should be.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here


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