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The Vatican's Cold Shoulder

December 22, 2007

The Wall Street Journal -  REVIEW & OUTLOOK
December 20, 2007

China's wrath toward those who meet with the Dalai Lama -- a list that
has recently included George W. Bush and Angela Merkel -- had its
desired effect in Italy last week, when Pope Benedict XVI backed out of
a planned meeting with the Buddhist leader.

The meeting had been on the Dalai Lama's calendar for several months,
says Thupten Samphel, a spokesperson for the exiled Tibetan government,
but on Nov. 26 the Vatican announced that nothing of that sort was on
the Pope's schedule. No reason was given for the cold shoulder. Vatican
Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi stressed that the Dalai Lama had
other reasons for coming to Italy, anyway. "Last year the Pope received
him. I don't think it is necessary to receive him every time he has come."

If they had met, the two would have had a lot to talk about. For both
men, gaining religious freedom for their followers in China has been
high on their agendas. Earlier this year, Pope Benedict took the
unprecedented step of writing a lengthy letter to Chinese Catholics that
expressed tempered support for China's state-run Catholic Church and
encouraged Chinese bishops to openly express their loyalty to the Pope.

Italian media speculated that the Pope canceled the meeting to ease
relations with China just before Beijing's appointment of a pro-Vatican
bishop in southern China. The bishop, who has in the past proclaimed his
loyalty to the Pope, was ordained on Dec. 4 in Guangzhou.

It's nice that the Vatican can now count one more Chinese bishop in its
fold. But the Pope's decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama is a
disappointment in the broader fight for religious freedom for Catholics
and people of other creeds in China.
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