Pope declines Dalai Lama meeting in Rome

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Pope Francis. 10 Dec 2014Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Vatican and the Chinese government are at odds over control of the Catholic Church in China

Pope Francis will not meet the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama because of the "delicate situation" with China, the Vatican says.

The Dalai Lama, who is visiting Rome, had requested a meeting.

A Vatican spokesman said that although the Pope held him "in very high regard", the request had been declined "for obvious reasons".

Correspondents say the Vatican does not want to jeopardise efforts to improve relations with China.

China describes the Dalai Lama as a separatist and reacts angrily when foreign dignitaries meet him.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in Tibet.

He now advocates a "middle way" with China, seeking autonomy but not independence for Tibet. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

"Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates," a Vatican spokesman said. He added that the Pope would send a video message to the conference.

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama said he was "disappointed at not being able to call on His Holiness the Pope but he does not want to cause any inconvenience".

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989

Catholicism in China

  • There are more Catholics in China than members of the Communist Party (about 100 million Catholics to 87.6 million party members)
  • Analysts say that by 2030 there may be more Catholics in China than any other country in the world
  • Christianity in China goes back to the 7th Century - but many have been forced to practise in underground, illegal churches
  • There are many restrictions for the official Church, such as the requirement to register all church buildings with the government, and being unable to recognise the authority of the Vatican.

Analysts say the Vatican and China are at odds over control of the Catholic Church in China.

The Chinese Communist Party oversees an official community, known as the Patriotic Association and believed to number about 12 million people, but there is also a much larger underground Church that is loyal to the Pope.

A serious bone of contention between China and the Vatican is which side should have the final say in the appointment of bishops.

A Vatican official said the Pope's decision was "not taken out of fear but to avoid any suffering by those who have already suffered".

The last time the Dalai Lama was granted a papal audience was in 2006 when he met former Pope Benedict XVI.

The Dalai Lama is in Rome for a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners. It was initially to be held in South Africa but was relocated to Rome after South Africa refused the Dalai Lama a visa.