The Vatican on Wednesday defended Pope Francis after human-rights groups expressed disappointment that he didn’t publicly acknowledge the plight of Rohingya Muslims, who have been subject to what the United Nations has termed a campaign of “textbook ethnic cleansing” by Myanmar’s military.
Spokesman Greg Burke said Francis took seriously the advice given to him by the local Catholic church, which urged him to toe a cautious line and not even refer to the “Rohingya” by name during his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, since the majority of people in Myanmar reject the term because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country.
“The moral authority of the pope stands,” Burke asserted Wednesday. “You can criticize what’s said, what’s not said, but the pope is not going to lose moral authority on this question here.”
Burke spoke as Francis neared the midpoint of his weeklong trip, which was in the works well before the Myanmar military launched what it called “clearance operations” in Rakhine state in response to attacks by a group of Rohingya militants against security positions in August. The campaign, denounced by the U.N. and the U.S. as “ethnic cleansing,” has forced more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in the worst Asian refugee crisis in decades.