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Pope Francis made headlines recently for his championing of the Rohingya. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is one that Muslim refugees from Myanmar use to designate themselves. The term is rejected by the Buddhists of Myanmar, as it suggests that the Muslims are native to their country, a claim they deny, insisting that they are intruders from neighboring Bangladesh.
While in Myanmar, the Pope avoided use of the term, but readily adopted it once he had crossed into Bangladesh to meet the Rohingya of the refugee camps. For this supposed act of courage, the Pope was lauded for his shunning of diplomacy in favor of plain-speaking and justice. Apparently, it did not occur to the adulatory media that courage in this matter was only possible while the Pope was in Myanmar, where he carefully avoided its use. He was in no danger among the Rohingya.
Wearing a Yankees’ cap at Fenway Park requires courage. Wearing one at Yankee stadium makes you one of the gang.
While aboard his jet during his return trip to Rome, the Pope, as is his habit, addressed the international press corps that travels with him, chronicling his acts of courage. He explained he did not use the word Rohingya in public addresses in Myanmar because, “They already knew what I thought.” The “they” he is referring to are presumably the political and religious leaders of Myanmar, whom the Pope supposes are so familiar with his views that he need not spell them out. But, as St. Thomas More reminded the court that tried him, the maxim of the law is “Tacet consentire” — silence implies consent.
In any event, once among the Rohingya and safely out of Myanmar, the Pope was bold enough to break his silence and pronounce the term. The Pope told the press corps, “I wept. I tried to do it in a way that couldn’t be seen.” Not to presume too much, but we might suggest to the Holy Father that to keep his weeping secret, it would be best not to announce it to the media. Reporters are terribly indiscreet and very likely to, well, report.
The Pope said he wept over the suffering of the Rohingya, whom he credits as being the blameless victims of persecution, based on their self-declaration and anecdotal accounts. In an astounding act of presumption, the Pope then appropriated the right to speak in the name of their alleged persecutors:
“In the name of all those who have persecuted you, who have harmed you, in the face of the world’s indifference, I ask for your forgiveness.”
Did the Buddhists of Myanmar commission the Pope to speak for them? Did they admit wrongdoing and confess their guilt and express a desire to seek forgiveness through the agency of the Pope? If not, why should Francis speak in their name? Indeed, why should he presume to speak in anyone else’s name unless he has permission to do so?
But the Pope not only takes upon himself the unwarranted ambassadorial role of speaking for the alleged miscreants of Myanmar, he goes on to apologize in the name of the whole world. Whatever may be happening along the borders of Bangladesh and Myanmar apparently imposes a moral obligation on the rest of mankind, an obligation we have failed to meet by our “indifference.” The Pope, then, believes it incumbent upon him to acknowledge our failure to the Rohingya and ask that they forgive us.
We might express some skepticism about the probable success of the Pope’s plea, as Muslims have not been notable for their readiness to forgive those who slight them or their religion. Mohammed was not known for his willingness to turn the other cheek, and “Live and let live” is not an attitude that informs the spirit of the Koran.
As for our supposedly sinful “indifference,” just what are we — the world — morally compelled to do, in the Pope’s estimation? We are not eyewitnesses to what is taking place. We cannot tell which stories are true, which are fabricated, whose claims are legally or historically justified and who initiated violence in particular instances. In short, the “world” — you and I — are in the dark about what is going on in this part of the world. And we are under no obligation to become informed.
Are we obliged to patrol the streets of our own cities, righting wrongs, like a superhero? The idea is absurd. How much more absurd is the notion that we must be engaged in conflicts in distant lands, deciding whose claim to justice is the more credible? And even should we become so engaged, what precisely does the Pope propose that we do? Mount crusades for Rohingya Rights?
A moment’s reflection on this Theater of the Absurd that the Pope scripted in his most recent and entirely unnecessary papal trip should make plain to anyone with common sense that nothing the Pope said or did has any connection to the governance of the Catholic Church and the safeguarding of its doctrine, which is the Pope’s designated job.
Why Myanmar and Bangladesh? The Catholic populations in these countries is marginal (about 1 percent in Myanmar; about 0.2 percent in Bangladesh). This dispute is between Muslims and Buddhists, neither of which acknowledge the authority of the Roman Pontiff in any area of life. Why should the Pope travel to the far reaches of the non-Christian world to insert himself in a regional dispute where he exercises neither jurisdiction nor acknowledged moral authority?
Both Buddhists and Muslims reject Christ and the claims of the Catholic Church. Indeed, for Muslims, the Pope is an infidel, leader of the Dar-Al-Harb – the world of war that must be conquered for allah. But the Pope has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the incompatibility of Islam and Christianity and is ever intent on showing compassion for Muslims. If only Francis were as eager to show compassion for members of his own persecuted Church in Muslim nations, or even Europeans maimed and killed in Paris and London to the cry of “allahu akbar!”
But the plight of the Rohingya draws the Pope halfway around the world, where he weeps and apologizes for all of us for the sufferings of a group of Muslim refugees to whom we have supposedly shown a sinful “indifference.” When will the Pope weep for us? When will he weep for Catholics who have been victims of doctrinal confusion and contradiction? When will he cry over the destruction of our liturgy? When will he tear his robes and lament the hideous perversion of his own clergy and the criminal coverups of his own bishops? When will he turn a tearful eye to Europe, bereft of Faith, its culture in tatters, Muslim rape gangs roaming the streets of its cities, mosques replacing churches, the bells of the Angelus being drowned out by the cry of “allahu akbar,” calling ever-multiplying numbers of Muslims to prayer – in Rome, in Paris, in Berlin, in Madrid, in Brussels, in London?
We need no apologies from the Pope in the name of supposed oppressors of the Rohingya. We are not edified by his hidden tears, later broadcast to the media, that he shed in Bangladesh. We need no empty words of condemnation or “sorrow” about the atrocities that have become a regular feature of modern life.
How wonderful it would be if useless words were no longer spoken by the Pope. How wonderful it would be if the Pope were to say: “I know little about climate change or environmental science or international economics. I cannot intervene and decide who is right and wrong in the many armed conflicts that perpetually erupt around the world, nor is it my duty to do so. I have no advice to give Buddhists or Muslims except this: turn to Christ and His Church. In our doctrine is truth. In our Lord is peace. In our worship is love. Come inside. Be with us and be saved.”
If the Pope were to do this, how many souls might be drawn to the Church? If the Pope were to use his power for the purpose intended by Our Lord, to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the Faith, the crisis in the Church would end. The Holy Father is the most powerful person on God’s Earth, but only as the Vicar of Christ, not as the vicar of the environment, or the vicar of economic equality, or the vicar of immigration, or, Heaven help us, the vicar of allah!
If the Pope really wants peace, for the Rohingya as well as for the rest of us, he has it in his power to bring it about: He can consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, along with his bishops. Were he to do this, there would be an end to much weeping, both public and private.