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The Pope’s silence on the Rohingya: prudent diplomacy or moral lapse?

During his stay in Myanmar, Pope Francis did not mention the brutal treatment of the Rohingya minority. Was that a mistake? Was it a failure of moral leadership? It’s not easy to answer those questions.

The persecution of the Rohingya is, by all reliable accounts, a gross violation of human rights. We expect the Roman Pontiff to defend human rights, and to denounce such violations. On the other hand, the Pope had been warned—by prelates in Myanmar, who presumably know the situation much better than we do—that if he spoke forthrightly about the Rohingya he would very likely inflame the passions of the militants and prompt them to redouble their efforts to wipe out the Muslim minority.

So should the Pope have spoken out—even if his statements might have caused greater suffering among the Rohingya? Pope Pius XII has been criticized heavily for not speaking out directly about the Holocaust. He, too, evidently concluded that quiet diplomacy (combined with active efforts to save Jewish lives) was a more prudent option than loud denunciations, which might have provoked Nazi reprisals against the Jews. Again, it’s not an easy call. But if you conclude Pope Francis was right in his judgment, you might find it hard to sustain the argument that Pope Pius XII was wrong.