THE Indian government has promised to investigate the denial of
visas to two senior Vatican officials.
One of the men denied an entry permit was the Most Revd Arthur
Roche, the former Bishop of Leeds, who is the secretary of the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments, and one of the highest-ranking Englishmen in the Roman
The other was the Most Revd Protase Rugambwa, the adjunct
secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and
president of the Pontifical Missionary Societies.
Both Archbishops had applied for visas in mid-December so that
they could attend the opening sessions of a meeting of Indian RC
bishops in Bangalore.
Their applications were kept pending, and shortly before their
departure they were informed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of
India that they had been refused. Archbishop Roche, instead, gave
his paper by teleconference, and took questions from Indian bishops
by the same method.
The last-minute denial of visas to the pair prompted worldwide
speculation that it signalled a collapse of Vatican-Indian
relations amid rising persecution and harassment of Christians in
the predominantly Hindu nation.
But the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, told the
Catholic News Service, a news agency based in Washington, DC, that
senior government officials had since apologised for the denial of
the visas. He said that the Indian government had also assured him
that it would launch an investigation into "what went wrong".
The episode comes amid rising violence against Christians,
including a spate of arson attacks on five churches in Delhi since
Although there are 24 million Christians in India, they
represent just over two per cent of a population that now exceeded
one billion. More than 80 per cent of the population are Hindus,
and most of the remainder are Muslims.
Church leaders in India have blamed the violence on the
ascendancy of the Hindu nationalist party of the Prime Minister,
Narendra Modi. Christians are increasingly the victims of attacks
by Hindu nationalists, who often accuse them of proselytising among
people of lower caste.
They are also experiencing intimidation by police, who last week
arrested nuns in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Delhi, and are reputed
to have handled them roughly as they were bundled on to a bus.
This came as the Archbishop of Delhi, the Most Revd Anil Couto,
made a formal request for police protection after an arson attack
on St Sebastian's, in East Delhi, which provoked protests by
Christians in the city.