Pope can’t avoid criticism over Rohingya issue
BY JASON HOROWITZ
New York Times
New York Times
In his last full day in Myanmar, Pope Francis sought to pivot away from politics and the disappointment over his decision to avoid mentioning the persecuted Rohingya Muslims and to find safer ground in Catholic liturgy and interreligious dialogue.
But even as the pope removed his shoes to meet with monks in a pagoda and celebrated Mass at a colonial-era racetrack, his decision not to directly address one of the world’s most acute humanitarian disasters cast a pall over what the Vatican sought to portray as a historic visit of bridge-building with a fledgling democracy.
“Nobody ever said Vatican diplomacy is infallible,” the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said at a news briefing here Wednesday evening. He said that no one in the Vatican had second-guessed the pope’s decision to avoid mentioning the Rohingya or considered pulling the plug on the visit, which even the pope’s supporters consider a tactical blunder for a usually politically sure-footed pontiff.
“He is not afraid of minefields,” Burke said, bristling at the notion that the trip had damaged the moral authority that is the pope’s most powerful diplomatic asset.
“People are not expected to solve impossible problems,” he said. “You'll see him going ahead and you can criticize what is said and what is not said. But the pope is not going to lose moral authority on this question here.”
Myanmar presented the pope with a treacherous diplomatic tight wire. The world expected a global figure who has championed the downtrodden to speak out for the more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh to escape a military campaign of killings, rape and arson. But local bishops urged him to avoid addressing the issue out of concern that it could aggravate the problem and endanger the small Christian minority.
In the news conference, Burke suggested that the pope had privately raised the issue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose own reputation has sunk with the weight of the crisis.