Cardinal Tauran during his visit to Saudi Arabia in April. / AFP
Did they are didn’t they?
On Saturday, reports coming out of the Middle East indicated that The Vatican and Saudi Arabia had agreed to start building Christian churches in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the only country in the region without one.
By Sunday, however, The Vatican had officially denied those reports.
The Egyptian Independent first reported the news, which was then picked up by media outlets across the globe:
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa of the Muslim World League and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, allegedly signed the agreement April 14, according to the Egyptian Independent.Under the agreement, a joint committee with representatives from both parties will also be established to organize future meetings, which will alternate between Rome and a city chosen by the Islamic World League.
“During my meetings, I insisted very much…that Christians and non-Muslims are spoken of well in schools and that they are never considered second-class citizens,” Tauran told the Vatican News, adding that he believes Saudi authorities wanted “to show that even in Saudi Arabia there is the possibility of discussion, and therefore of changing the country’s image.”
Tauran’s trip was also the first time the Saudi king met with such a high-profile official from the Vatican.
That’s an awfully detailed description of an agreement that supposedly does not exist. But The Vatican insisted late in the day Saturday that, while the cardinal had visited the country last month, and had met with its reformist Riyadh-based Etidal — a group dedicated to promoting tolerance and assuaging extremism — it had struck no such agreement to build churches in the kingdom.
The Vatican has denied making a deal with Saudi Arabia to build churches for Christian worshippers in the Arab country.
Reports in Middle Eastern media claimed a historic agreement had been made between Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa of the Muslim World League.
But a spokesperson for the Vatican said the report was ‘false’.
The rumor, since the text of the agreement has not been circulated, is that Tauran and the Muslim World League (responsible for the spread of the very restrictive Wahhabi form of Islam) have only agreed to regular inter-religious summits.
Any public worship of religion other than Islam is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. In fact, any citizen of the country is automatically counted as Muslim by the state. However, there are believed to be as many as 2 million Christians living in the Kingdom, many of them migrant workers from Asia.
The meeting between the Vatican, the Saudi Royal Family and government leaders comes after a much-publicized Western tour of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he reportedly seeks a new openness in relations between his country and other world leaders.