Pope's "silence" over Tibet criticized

(dpa) - Commentators in Italy have criticized what they say is the failure of Pope Benedict XVI to express concern for the violence in Tibet.

"At (Sunday's) Angelus Benedict opted to speak about Iraq and remain silent on Tibet," Turin-based daily La Stampa said Monday referring to the pontiff's appeal for peace in Iraq during his traditional Sunday address to the faithful in St Peter's square.

"It is a silence that has made noise... forcing the Holy See to justify itself with a reasoning that betrays its embarrassment," La Stampa said in an article signed by the newspaper's Vatican specialist, Giacomo Galeazzi.

The Vatican has yet to make an official statement on the Tibet violence, and Galeazzi and other commentators have pointed out the pontiff does not always use the Angelus to comment on topical issues.

But Italian news reports have quoted unidentified Holy See officials as saying that the absence of an envoy in China - the Vatican does have diplomatic ties with Beijing - and the lack of a Vatican-recognized Catholic community in that country means "no first-hand information" exists on events in Tibet.

Still, critics of the Vatican's stance say that news of the Chinese authorities violent crackdown on independence-seeking Tibetan demonstrators has been widely reported by several Catholic news agencies, including Misna and Asianews.

"It is ridiculous to justify the lack of a public appeal by citing the absence of a Nunzio (a Vatican ambassador) or Church sources," Misna's director Venanzio Milani, was quoted as saying by La Stampa.

Some suspect the Vatican's is reluctant to speak out against the actions of the Chinese authorities for fear of jeopardizing steadily improving relations with Beijing,

"He (Benedict) is trying not to irritate Beijing in exchange for freedom to lead the Church in China," said a commentator on Radio Radicale, a broadcaster linked to the Transnational Radical Party a group which campaigns for human rights in China.

The Vatican and Beijing have been at odds since the 1950s when the Communist authorities set up the Patriotic Catholic Association and retained the right to appoint its bishops.

China's tiny Catholic minority, estimated to number between 8 to 12 million is currently split between those who belong to the Patriotic Association and those who follow the "underground" church loyal to the pope.

Benedict has made improving ties with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate, and last year sent a letter to China's Catholics in which he called for dialogue with the Chinese authorities.

Since then Beijing has appointed at least two Vatican-approved bishops to the official church.

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