In this Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, file photo, Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait to receive aid during a distribution near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh. The prejudice and hostility that Rohingya Muslims face stretches beyond Myanmar’s notoriously brutal security forces into a general population receptive to an often virulent form of Buddhist nationalism that has seen a resurgence since the end of military rule. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin, File)

Pope Francis shouldn’t risk going to Myanmar

(RNS) — Next week, Pope Francis will make a visit to Myanmar, where he risks either compromising his moral authority or putting in danger the Christians of that country. I have great admiration for the pope and his abilities, but someone should have talked him out of making this trip.

I pray I am wrong.

Myanmar is a mess.

Under a veneer of democracy, the military still holds most of the power, including control of the police and other security forces. Allied with the military are radical Buddhist monks who have rallied their people against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, which they consider hostile foreigners even though they have been in Myanmar for generations. The result has been what the United Nations calls a textbook case of ethnic cleansing and some people think borders on genocide.

The evidence is overwhelming. Satellite photos show scores of villages burned to the ground. Nearly 600,000 Rohingya have fled their country becoming refugees in Bangladesh. Journalists and human rights organizations have recorded hundreds of eyewitness stories of systematic rape, mass murder, and organized terror against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military. The refugees in overcrowded, disorganized camps are clearly traumatized by their experience.

This crisis did not just suddenly appear without notice. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has been documenting the abuse of the Rohingya for years and has listed Myanmar, which the U.S. State Department still calls Burma, as a “country of particular concern,” one of the worst countries in the world on religious freedom.

Although I have been a commissioner of USCIRF since appointed by President Obama in 2014, the views expressed in this column are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the commission.

In its annual reports, USCIRF has been very critical of Myanmar. In December 2016, it also published a special report on “The Ongoing Persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.” But it is not only the Muslims who have been persecuted by the Buddhist majority. Also documented by USCIRF is the hidden plight of the Christian minorities in Burma.

Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed together to receive food handouts distributed to children and women by a Turkish aid agency at Thaingkhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. UNICEF says the children who make up most of the nearly 600,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar are seeing a "hell on earth" in overcrowded, muddy and squalid refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Children account for 58 percent of the refugees who have poured into Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, over the last eight weeks. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

This is why the pope's Myanmar visit, which begins on Monday (Nov. 27), is so dangerous for the 4 percent of the population that is Christian, including the 659,000 Catholics.

On the one hand, his prophetic voice should be on the side of the Rohingya refugees, but the Myanmar military and government deny any ethnic cleansing is happening. A strong defense of the Rohingya will lead to increased persecution of the Christians in Myanmar. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, has warned the pope not to even use the word "Rohingya," a term the Buddhist majority rejects.

In the last century, Pope Pius XII faced a similar dilemma. Would speaking out against genocide of the Jews during World War II put Catholics at risk? Pope Francis is walking through the same minefield in Myanmar. If he is prophetic, he puts Christians at risk; if he is silent about the persecution of the Rohingya, he loses moral credibility. While I hope he and the Myanmar Christians survive the experience, Pius XII's credibility clearly did not.

This is not the first visit of Pope Francis to a troubled land. He visited the Middle East in 2014, and Cuba and the Central African Republic in 2015. Those trips were almost universally deemed successes. If he is equally successful in Myanmar, I will not be surprised to see him walk on water.


  1. Well, frank could pray for his safety. That always works.

  2. “If he is equally successful in Myanmar, I will not be surprised to see him walk on water.”… no papalotry here… there is no need for him to travel to this land
    where Catholics are a handful… just another publicity stunt for man of grandiose jestures while continuing to do great harm to the faith and faithful Catholics.. he should stay in Rome and spend time correcting his many errors of the past 4 plus years of a failed papacy … the latest being his unscriptural statements about the victims of Sodom and Gomorah leading normal lives and dying normally like most of us will some day.. sorry your holiness please don’t compared me to the perverts of those 2 cities . They were obliterated from the face of the earth by our Creator for their homosexual practices , read the bible your holiness don’t give us some Jesuit reinterpretation of holy scripture. If you can’t confirm us in the faith than do us all a favour and leave the see of Peter.

  3. As reported in August, “The trip will be in conjunction with a visit to neighboring Bangladesh, and is a last-minute change after plans to visit India fell through due to hesitation from the Indian government.” (
    “If he is silent about the persecution of the Rohingya, he loses moral credibility”? The true miracle would be if the U.S. media actually criticizes this pope for anything after remaining silent on his toadying up to Putin and Xi Jinping.

  4. Francis will absolutely lose moral credibility if he restrains his voice on behalf of the Rohingya in order to protect the Burmese Catholic population. It didn’t justify Pius XII’s lack of action and it won’t justify it now.

  5. If you actually read the Bible, instead of the masturbatory fantasies about sodom having been a hotbed of homosexuality—nothing is known about gomorrah, after all—

    Well, you really wouldn’t have anything to be angry about.

  6. Obviously you are not a theologian. Obviously, you have never read the story of sodom with and open mind about what it actually says, which is nothing about homosexuality whatsoever.

    Here’s the question for you to consider. Had the crowd, intent on rape, had actually raped lot’s daughters instead of THREATENING to rape the angels, would you be calling it a condemnation of heterosexuality?

    Of course not.

  7. Not sure how those trips cited were successful except that the pope survived and got his cause publicity. The Middle East is as great a mess as ever and Cuba is still poor and under one party rule. He may shed a little light on the Buddhist Moslem conflict for a moment, but I doubt anything lasting will result.

  8. It makes no difference where the pope visits. The popes moral authority is an illusion, limited, even strained even within his own church and virtually absent outside. And if that’s the best that God can do, either there is no God or certainly this pope has nothing to do with God. My bet is on the latter.

  9. For a quy who thinks the Pope is “unscriptural:, I guess I thought you might be more familiar with scripture.

    “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had
    pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and
    They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Ezekiel 16:49-50

  10. Obviously the [ope thinks he will be bringing the peace of God with him. Doubtful.

  11. and obviously you must be a superior Jesuit trained theologian, who makes it up as they go..God have mercy on us!

  12. No, dear. I just read and question. You obviously have done neither. this is just for you. Perhaps you will seek to read and understand something.

    The story of Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality, as understood in that time OR in ours. Different reasons, though. People who claim it is about homosexuality have never bothered to read it or think about it, but merely repeat what a similarly situated person said. Like so many memes, constant repetition is what makes them true, not an actual analysis. Very much like the Levitical passages: unbiased scholars know these passages were interpreted as condemnations of
    homosexuality well after the fact.

    First, the Sodom story is one of the most ancient in the bible, probably
    written when our god was the Midianite Storm God Formerly Known as El– a story so ancient that God WALKS to Sodom, has dinner with Abraham, bargains with him, and has to send someone to Sodom to find out if the rumors are true. God is apparently surprised that Sarah is hiding behind the door of the tent. Sarah is so unafraid of the Majesty of the Lord that she lies to him. Does that fit in even remotely with the god of the rest of the bible?

    The same is true of the story of Job, another ancient, ancient story, probably by several authors. In it, God attacks Job in order to win a bet with Satan. Not exactly what I would call fitting behavior for the
    creator of the Universe. That God restores Job with a new wife, new children, new lands, and new health, doesn’t make this story anything else than one about a real sadist. That he makes it up later doesn’t do anything about Job’s pain.

    As for the bargaining, the constant reference is to RIGHTEOUS men. It takes 2500 years of homohatred to turn RIGHTEOUS into Heterosexual. What people miss is that the angels DID find a righteous man—Lot– though a drunk who committed incest with his daughters. God destroyed the city anyway. Yet another indication the story
    doesn’t say what people claim it does. Or righteous now means an incestuous old drunk.

    Letting the bible be its own best commentator, only three other references to the sins of Sodom have anything to do with sexuality at all, but pride and inhospitality and unspecified abomination. One reference– in Jude– refers to “going after strange flesh.” is about lusting after angels, not men, according to most scholars. The other two are so vague as to be useless. Certainly, homosexuality is not specified.

    But the most damning–giggle–of all is what people fail to notice. Not only was this “sin” about the threat of gang rape– the angels were hardly being asked out for dinner and an evening in front of the fireplace BY ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE TOWN…
    which presumably would include THE WOMEN…

    Not only did Lot offer his virgin daughters to the crowd, an unlikely event if they were homosexual—it wouldn’t entice me…

    But the alleged sin of Sodom NEVER occurred. The angels struck BEFORE anything had happened. How does one sin if one didn’t? Unless, of course, the sin of Sodom was the one that actually did occur: inhospitality to strangers.

    It’s useful to compare the Sodom story with the story of the Woman of Gibeah. “Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened. So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died.”

    So a man went with his concubine to a house in Gibeah, and all of the men in the town raped the woman, killing her. Did this turn into a condemnation of heterosexuality? No. But following the logic of the Sodom story, it SHOULD have. But that would seriously inconvenience heterosexuals, and disturb the narrative that gay people are always at fault for everything.

    The Sodom story, especially in contrast to the woman of Gibeah, is the
    perfect example of hermeneutics– the exquisite are of getting your holy book to say exactly what you want it to. It was done for slavery, segregation, the rights of women, and the burning of witches and heretics.

    You’re welcome.

  13. Ezekiel 16:49-50 declares, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me…” The Hebrew word translated “detestable” refers to something that is morally disgusting and is the exact same word used in Leviticus 18:22 that refers to homosexuality as an “abomination.” Similarly, Jude 7 declares, “…Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.” So, again, while homosexuality was not the only sin in which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah indulged, it does appear to be the primary reason for the destruction of the cities.

  14. Maybe the Pope thinks Christians are supposed to speak up for the plight of others, regardless of the cost to themselves. Sort of like Jesus.

    And just a friendly reminder — this story was about Myanmar and what the Pope may do for the cause of human rights there. Your mention of Sodom is off-topic. If I were a refugee wondering if the Christian God cares about people like me, stuck in a refugee camp, or wondering if the military might be coming to kill me in Myanmar, I might wonder if you could spare a few minutes to think about my situation. Or perhaps you are simply obsessed with homosexuality, and preoccupied by the opportunity to call out the sins of other people. Log in eye-style.

  15. I’ve read Ezekiel’s prophecies. Not lying – just suffering from mental illness causing his visual and auditory hallucinations.

  16. Yes, even the Holy -See is a politically correct Marxist leftist who can’t see straight nor can he see the biblical context in its original intent but backflips for the governments around the globe steeped into leftism so he can be ingratiated for his benevolence. He assumes holy scriptures are outmoded for a postmodernist person- who is in fact “steeped in one’s own belief system” as coherent with biblical doctrine when t is clearly not and his (pope) exegesis is so off base an intellectual professor or a solid pastor could easily out debate this mans debate..even I could as a lay person.! I think catechism led him down the path to a hubristic-popish (popular cultural motif) sentimentalism to be “accepted” rather than be biblically correct. He does a huge disservice to true Catholics who assume he’s doing them justice. Many catholics have left the church due to strange doctrinal twists and turns coming from Rome! I can’t blame them, yet diehard catholics will stubbornly accept or even considers the Pope’s utterances as “All knowing and a truth from god himself” He’s going to be separated ( with ) the goats on judgment day; God is not mocked!

    No wonder I left the catholic church in the 70’s.I personally think that the catholic church is a field ready for the harvest of souls for God’s love and coming Kingdom.

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