On Friday, the Dalai Lama said that he was sorry that he would not be meeting the Pope during his visit to Italy. The Pontiff met with the exiled Tibetan last October in what the Vatican termed “a private courtesy visit.” This time, however, the Pope refused to have any contact with him. The turn-down was unexpected: a December 13 audience between the two spiritual leaders was unofficially announced in late October.
Why would Pope Benedict change his mind and shun one of the world’s most respected figures? Beijing in early November said such a meeting would “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” Most Chinese, frankly, do not care; it’s the Chinese leaders who would be upset. Their campaign to isolate the Dalai Lama is failing. So far this year, the Tibetan has met the leaders of Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Moreover, Tibetan lands that the Chinese rule are going through another cycle of instability—disturbances there are occurring with increasing frequency. It’s exhilarating to watch the Chinese repressors on the run both at home and abroad.
Yet it is so depressing to watch the Pope perform the kowtow to atheistic autocrats in Beijing. One of Benedict’s top priorities is to establish relations with the modern Chinese state. He has made some progress recently—China’s state-run Catholic Church ordained two Vatican-approved bishops within the month (it often chooses clergymen who do not have Rome’s blessing). The timing of the elevations suggests they were directly related to Benedict’s refusal to see the exiled Tibetan.
The Pope, in a 55-page open letter dated May 27, indicated that the Vatican was willing to switch recognition from Taiwan to the mainland under certain conditions, including those relating to the selection of bishops. That would be a betrayal of millions of souls. Now, to please the Communist Party, he is breaking the Holy See’s long relations with the Dalai Lama. The Pontiff, unfortunately, is becoming just another craven figure in a world with too many of them. We expect better from religious leaders. Benedict, I am sad to say, is a disappointment.