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Saudi Arabia’s diplomacy doesn’t mask its religious intolerance

The Saudi King might want inter-religous dialogue but prayer is all the Church can offer

By on Thursday, 18 April 2013

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (Photo: PA)

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (Photo: PA)

It is interesting to note that His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia has sent a message to Pope Francis through his ambassador to Italy.

There is no Saudi ambassador to the Vatican, because the Holy See and the Saudi Kingdom have no diplomatic relations. This is because the Kingdom refuses to concede freedom of conscience to its subjects and foreign residents, and the Holy See refuses diplomatic relations to such countries.

In case any reader is in any danger of forgetting, in Saudi Arabia it is illegal to celebrate any non-Muslim feast, or to hold any non-Muslim act of worship.

Hence Mass can only be celebrated in foreign embassies. There is, I believe, a regular Mass in the Italian embassy in Riyadh, and there are priests in Saudi Arabia, but these live anonymously and discretely. All this is pretty tough on the Catholics who live in Saudi, among whom are many Westerners and about half a million people from the Philippines.

The report cited above says that there are eight countries which have no diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Wikipedia talks of seven such countries: “As well as the countries mentioned above as having apostolic delegations, Afghanistan, Bhutan, People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Tuvalu do not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See,” it says.

This list makes interesting reading (though, in fairness, I have never heard anything ill of Tuvalu). The eighth country that Wikipedia does not list, is, I feel sure, The Maldives, which like Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian Mulsim state.

One wonders what the Saudi King said in his message to the Pope. Perhaps no more than diplomatic niceties and congratulations on his succession. The Saudi King has shown signs of wanting inter-religious dialogue, as I have mentioned before, and this is to be welcomed.

But the King has to tread carefully, as he has radicals at home who are anything but committed to dialogue, again, as I have mentioned before.

The King has called in person on Pope Benedict XVI, a call that sadly no Pope can ever return: the position of Saudi Arabia remains an enigma in the modern world.

What is to be done? My personal attitude is that prayer and more prayer is necessary for the peoples of Arabia, and in particular that this prayer should be directed through Our Blessed Lady, who, I feel sure, has this cause particularly close to Her heart.

  • scary goat

    “- but statistics in recent decades for the African continent in its
    entirety show a marked tendency of conversion away from Islam to
    Christianity, including in Egypt.”


    “And, er, ironically enough, your own holy conversion to the Faith is just such evidence”

    Yes, indeed, Jabba….but this is a different subject. I never said the Holy Spirit isn’t working everywhere, including amongst the Muslim people and, of course, conversions do happen. My point being that where the Holy Spirit is at work amongst Muslims He will cause conversions to Christianity. That is entirely different from suggesting that the Holy Spirit is working with Islam (in a syncretistic sense).

  • Julian Lord

    Quite — it’s a straightforward denial of the contents of Christ’s own Prophecy, whilst maintaining His place among the Prophets.

    This denial is inherently illogical.

  • Jonathan West

    Yes, well done! We have nothing to offer. “By their fruits ye shall know them”. Traditionally the “West” was Christian (Catholic). Muslims work on the assumption that Christianity and the West go hand in hand. Look at us.
    Family values gone down the drain, community spirit? You’re lucky if neighbour knows neighbour. Our idea of having a social life is getting drunk and getting (can’t say).

    No, this is not the problem. The problem is that we (the christian west) have rather been in the habit of invading muslim countries and killing lots of muslims. That is their experience of us! That is what they see when they think of “By their fruits ye shall know them”.

  • scary goat

    Both are a problem…as I have mentioned in other posts on other threads at various times. To say that what I mention is not the problem is incorrect….it is not the only problem is more accurate. The impression we give of ourselves as a culture is not good, and it most certainly does affect how they see us.

    Funnily enough I was thinking about putting a ps. to Jabba about that subject too. ” Moderate Islam” is best left alone to develop by itself from the inside. People often practice “Islam light” and have more compassionate views than Fundamentalist Islam. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance going on between what people think and what it actually says. If left in peace, this may develop. (and this is where the Holy Spirit could possibly be at work, opening minds of the people, laying the groundwork for conversion…rather than somehow morphing the Islam per se into a parallel valid religion) The more the West interferes with Muslim countries for political and economic ends, the more Muslims are likely to react with a “pack mentality” which consolidates the fundamentalist position. You are of course correct that attacking them doesn’t exactly encourage them to think that we are the good guys. It just adds to the list of other reasons why they are inclined to view us with contempt.

  • Julian Lord

    No, this is not the problem. The problem is that we (the christian west)
    have rather been in the habit of invading muslim countries and killing
    lots of muslims. That is their experience of us! That is what they see when they think of “By their fruits ye shall know them”.

    “By their anti-Christian atheist propaganda, ye shall know them”

    FACT : Muslims invaded the Holy Land, and vast swathes of North Africa, Spain, and the Southern half of France, committing horrendous acts of genocide upon the peaceful Christians and Jews and others who inhabited these lands, and organising mass executions of all they could find who would not convert to their religion.

    “muslim countries” indeed !!! PAH !!!

    Are you French ? Because you certainly sound like a cheese-eating surrender monkey to me !!!

    FYI the Crusades were mounted following a request from the local Christian populace to help defend them against the horrors and warfare that were being inflicted upon them by the Muslims.

  • Jonathan West

    I think we have been invading muslim countries rather more recently than that.

  • Julian Lord

    Wot, you think Saddam’s Iraq and Qaddafi’s Libya were “muslim countries” ???? LMAO

    So — by that logic, are UK and US “Christian countries” ?

  • Benedict Carter

    What do you mean, “muslim countries”? What about the very large Christian presence in Iraq? You forget them, just as Bush and Blair did.

  • James M

    The Edict of Milan – which I never so much as hinted at – is irrelevant: it is for you to show its relevance. It is beyond farcical to compare the political theology of the Edict of Milan & its framers with the political theology of Islam. If you really must have a late Roman Imperial precedent for the political theology of a religion in recent times, you have the “Edict of Thessalonica” of 380:


    It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.


    —Codex Theodosianus, xvi.1.2

    ## The absolute refusal of Catholic states to tolerate the false worships of heretics & heathens, as in many Catholic countries until recently, is expressed in the above edict. Those Emperors were Catholics, and thought like Catholics – the NT, like the OT, knows nothing of the “delirium” (so Gregory XVI) of allowing equal rights to error & truth. The same thinking – though they have no right to it, because they are themselves in error – is used by Saudi Muslims. It is perfectly intelligible, and it discriminates between error & falsehood, even though they misidentify which is which.

    The principle is wholly right, & cannot be conceded by the Church – which, unlike Islam, does have every right to use it – without the conclusion following that the Church has been in error for most of its life. I absolutely will not grant this conclusion – it is suicidal, & utterly destroys the Church’s infallibility in faith, in teaching, and in defining. The Church has no authority to cut her own throat by teaching her new-fangled nonsense of religious freedom, because there is no such thing. Men are morally free to adhere to the True Faith – they are not free to adhere to false religions without committing what is at least materially a sin, any more than they are free to drink poison and be unharmed by it.

    Dignitatis Humanae is polluted by a false notion of human freedom, which is secular to the core. It is founded on a lie, so it brings forth lies. DH rejects the true doctrine, by performing what in the US is called “bait and switch” – it is not an authentic development of doctrine, but a false one. And because it is secular, it disables those who are taught it from understanding how Muslims can adopt the excellent principle of allowing no room to error. The Roman Empire was Christianised in the same way – the old cults were not allowed premises for worship, material means for their maintenance, words for referring to them, or time in the calendar – all these were taken over by the True Faith instead, as was right. The Church was free of tolerance – and tolerance is a lesser evil than the Church’s new-found championship of fake religions. Muslims have not been poisoned by the raving insanity that is “religious liberty”.

    “Your foolish notion that religious freedom is a product of Vatican II flies as much in the face of historical reality as it does in the face of the constant teaching of our Church on the possession by each individual human person of their own undeniable Free Will in this and in all such matters.”

    ## I am well aware of the subtleties of the notions behind the words “religious liberty”, and of those regarding free will. You comments OTOH fail to make some necessary distinctions – and entirely ignore the teaching & action of the Church that (rightly) led her to uproot errors. The actions of St Pius V to uproot Protestantism in Italy are a case in point. The Church does not canonise zealous & energetic Inquisitors if they are acting against her doctrine. There have been at least two Inquisitors who turned heretic: one of them was burned as recently as 1538. The future Pope could hardly have been unaware of this; & Paul IV did not object to his actions against heresy. The Pope was beatified in 1672 & canonised in 1712 – why was either possible, if his repression of heresy was against Catholic doctrine ?

    When people use their free will to commit horrible crimes – like heresy – the Church has intervened. That is what you overlook. It happens today. People have free will – they are not entitled to use it to harm the faithful. By your bad logic, paedophiles should not be punished; for they used their free will to do what they did.

  • Jonathan West

    They are countries with predominently muslim populations. As are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Chad (colonised by France in the 19th century), Libya and Somalia (colonised by Italy in the 19th century), Egypt, Sudan (colonised by Britain in the 19th century),Syria (administered by France after WWI), Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the Gulf states (administered by Britain after WWI, Pakistan (Part of the British Empire originally administered by the East India Company), and Iran (subject to British and Russian occupation)

    Most of these countries have even since becoming nominally independent have been subject to military attack by western forces or western-sponsored military coups.

    JP, if you are so indignant about the rise of Islam in the 8th and 9th centuries, just think how much more indignant they are about western activities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Then explain why they should think they have anything to learn from us in terms of morality.

  • James M

    Thank goodness – someone who can see what I was driving at :) We will not regain our strength if the noxious rubbish that is Dignitatis Humanae is not corrected – its teaching is a social disaster because it is a doctrinal disaster.

  • James M

    Those who work against the True Faith do something wicked. The Church used to realise this, until 1965. Saudi Muslims believe their false religion is revealed by God. From their POV, given their theology & doctrine, their severity is entirely proper, and worthy of praise. They are thinking as Catholics ought to think, and used to think. If Islam is revealed by God, it is wrong to profess any other.

    The same is true of the True Faith, of Catholicism. It is revealed by God, so Catholics, because they believe this, and because they accept that its teaching is assisted by the Holy Spirit, have no grounds for believing that any other religion has any true right to exist in society.

    Only on non-Muslim grounds can it be wrong to execute apostates from Islam. Only on non-Catholic grounds can it be wrong to forbid non-Catholic religions & POVs the freedom to be promoted. From a Catholic POV, there is little difference between the right to gay marriage, and the right to spread Protestantism in a Catholic state. This is why the protests of the Catholic bishops are founded on sand – they oppose the one; yet they accept the other. The same logic is at the bottom of both: for both are refusals to accept the Kingship of Christ in society.

    Whether it is wrong to execute apostates, is a different issue. If Catholics are capable of defending the Inquisitions & the DP for heresy, they should have no difficulty defending the execution of apostates in Islam. The logic of of the position is perfectly sound. Whether it is good from a Muslim POV, & whether it is good from a Christian POV, are questions that will be answered differently. But it’s ridiculous for non-Muslims to be offended by Muslim faithfulness to Muslim convictions or by Muslim laws based on Muslim principles that end in the capital punishment of those Muslims who transgress them. On its own principles, the CC has deprived itself of the ability to understand that POV – all it can do is talk rubbish about human rights, as if those were relevant. Muslims must behave as Muslims, otherwise they are either inconsistent or insincere. By their own principles, they must consult what God wants – and if God wishes that apostates be executed, it is the duty of Muslims to execute them.

    To bring in rot about human rights would be indefencible, for no rot about human rights can justify apostasy from a religion that its adherents acknowledge as revealed by God. Human rights are true rights only if based on God’s known Will for men – they cannot be used to trump God’s Will. The right to commit apostasy is a blasphemous idea, and the Church used to see this clearly. Muslims still do: they are far more Catholic in their thinking than many Catholics.

    It is not tyranny to restrict a false religion – it is worthy of great praise. Although it is deplorable & lamentable that this excellent principle is used against Catholicism, the principle itself is entirely valid, and for the Saudis to be so thorough in applying it does them great credit – it would have been easy to go along with the fashionable rubbish that is the idol of human rights. They are acting as their principles require.

    There is no “balance” between good OTOH, & evil OTO – we are required to reject all evil, under all circumstances, without the least exception. It is not rigid to reject all poisons in society, but entirely right and morally obligatory. The application of this principle can be done badly – people may hate a vice so much, that they fallen into its opposite – but the principle itself is clear. To be moderate in doing good, is an absurdity – that kind of “balance” is impiety under another name. What people call moderation, is often a form of sloth :( It’s a category error – as though God could be served too much, or loved too much.

  • James M

    My stuff may be a minority view, perhaps :) Thanks though.

  • James M

    All very interesting posts :)

    FWIW, though Islam does seem to be impenetrable, there is a large amount of Evangelical literature on the subject of conversions to Christianity. (Is there anything by Catholics on the subject ?) STM that Catholicism has too much “baggage” for house-churches & church-planting to occur – Evangelicalism has the advantage here, because it “travels light”. They evangelise Muslims, while other Christians hold endless seminars on whether Muslims should even be evangelised. A sorry contrast, IMO.

  • James M

    Why should Muslims be bothered by what Muslims did so long ago ? It makes sense that they might not admire the Crusaders against them, or their religion.

  • James M

    Very informative – TY :)

  • Julian Lord

    So — by that logic, are UK and US “Christian countries” ? (funny how you totally avoided answering my question, eh, and answered something completely different instead)

    They are countries with predominantly Christian populations, aren’t they ?

    So — do you admit then that you live in a Christian country ?

  • Julian Lord

    The Edict of Milan – which I never so much as hinted at – is irrelevant: it is for you to show its relevance

    You know, simply saying that doesn’t make it true — particularly when you address the very point I was making, demonstrating that you have understood quite clearly its relevance — that these questions are NOT a product of Vatican II, but they have been a concern for our Church since Antiquity.

    Your quoting of the “Edict of Thessalonica” of 380 simply reinforces this point.

    The absolute refusal of Catholic states to tolerate the false worships
    of heretics & heathens, as in many Catholic countries until
    recently, is expressed in the above edict

    The Edict, in fact, concerns heathens not in the slightest, but only those falsely claiming to be Catholic Christians.

    Though the Edict *does* emphatically demonstrate that the Church of the 4th Century was our Catholic Church, contrary to the claims of our modern day heretics…

    if his repression of heresy was against Catholic doctrine

    Why are you drawing conclusions from out of what I’ve written that are incoherent with its contents ?

    Your analysis is entirely wrongful, based as it is on dumping a whole bunch of preconceived assumptions into your interpretation of what I said — whereas what I said was far simpler, and involves none of the false theology that you suggest that it does.

    You do NOT address the central issue, which is that the indefectible dogma of Free Will cannot EVER be denied by ANY Catholic teaching — yes, Free Will provides that some men and women will commit sins, crimes, heresies, false religion, and apostasies, and that these evils will lead these men and women towards their damnation.

    But how on EARTH do you derive from that, that either Dignitatis Humanae or myself are in ANY way defending such evils as if they were virtues ???? It just makes no sense at all.

    The Church’s teachings on the nature of sin and evil are not changed in the SLIGHTEST by the existence of Dignitatis Humanae.

    By your bad logic, paedophiles should not be punished; for they used their free will to do what they did

    What an UTTERLY ludicrous statement, based as it is on your use of special logic to “discover” “contents” in my statements that are ENTIRELY non-existent.

  • Jonathan West

    Certainly the US is a Christian country by that definition. The UK was a Christian country, but with the decline in religious belief it is arguable that the UK no longer is a Christian country, in that its population is no longer predominantly Christian.

    I would be interested in your views on what the inhabitants of predominantly muslim countries think of our habit of military interventions in their countries.

  • Peter

    “The poster Peter here witters on eternally about “justice & peace” as the only answer, but he’s wrong.”

    How can anyone worthily adore Christ in his flesh and blood at the altar and at the same time ignore Christ in the flesh and blood of the least of his brothers, whether they be Christian, Muslim or pagan?

    It is hypocrisy and falsehood, to pretend to know Christ in one form and to reject him in another form. Doing so runs the risk of Christ not knowing us on Judgement Day.

  • Julian Lord

    I would be interested in your views on what the inhabitants of
    predominantly muslim countries think of our habit of military
    interventions in their countries

    I’m sure that various different people have various different opinions on such matters, rather than everyone in each of these different countries having a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter sameness of opinion and outlook.

  • Jonathan West

    Well, what do you think is the most common opinion amongst the population there. Do you think for instance that they appreciate having been colonised? Do you think the Iranians are grateful for the CIA-sponsored coup in the 1950s, or that the Algerians appreciated French colonisation or that the Palestinians think it was a good idea that where they lived was handed over to Jewish immigrants who then turned them out of their homes at the point of a gun?

  • arcadius

    Again, in a democratic and free society, everyone is entitled to their opinion, voice, and vote. I accept that the law is the law. I don’t have to accept that the law is correct. Requiring that everyone assent to the law in belief and not merely in practice is not compatible with democracy and a free and enlightened society.

    However, I think you’ll agree that certain basic principles can not be put to a vote. Theft, rape, and murder must always be illegal. Catholics believe abortion is murder and therefore argue it should be illegal even though a majority disagree. (And I wonder, were the unborn surveyed?) But Catholics would prefer to win people over by persuasion, rather than having to rely on the force of the state to protect innocent lives.

    Can you provide a source for your “violence” quote? I have never heard any Catholic bishop advocating violence.

  • arcadius

    Fair enough, I just wonder if that kind of rigid enforcement is really effective. The ruler of a country is like a parent. As a parent, your goal is the salvation of your child’s soul. If your punishment is disproportionate, your child will begin to question your judgment, and rebel.

    For example, my wife is Korean. We like to discuss the different parenting philosophies of Asians and Westerners. Asians tend to be rather strict, and this does produce good students and low rates of e.g. drug abuse among the young. However, there is also a disturbingly high rate of suicide among the young in Korea also. You can only push someone so hard until they start to push back. Are suicides worth it to have a nation of good students? I don’t know.

    My point is that you need to look at the big picture and consider unintended consequences. You can’t just declare “Everyone’s a Christian now” and call it a day. You have to see that people really understand and appreciate what you’re trying to teach them, and this requires subtlety and tact.

    I’m not advocating the right to apostasy, but just pointing out that apostates will exist whether or not it is legal. Making apostasy a crime may not be as effective as you think.

  • Matthew Roth

    And Lebanon, which has seen its Maronite population rapidly decline since the civil war, primarily directed at Maronites.

  • Peter

    On the contrary, bringing justice to the oppressed, peace to the war-torn, help to the poor and inclusion to the marginalised, are profoundly doctrinal acts in that they are service to Christ himself, the only necessary prerequisite for salvation.

  • Fracis

    I am Latino and proud to be Catholic. I’ve been living in Saudi Arabia for three years now. I have met lots of Catholics from other parts of the world and Latinos like me living here. I can only say that living here has helped me appreciate, cultivate and enhance my faith. Maybe because I learned to value it!