Denial of visas to Vatican officials comes amid heightened tensions over 're-conversion' ceremonies

India’s Catholic bishops have protested against a government decision to deny visas to two Vatican officials seeking to visit the country for a gathering.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, former Bishop of Leeds and now secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Portase Rugambwa, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, were to leave for India on Monday but were forced to cancel their trip at the last minute.

The two Vatican officials had been expected to address a gathering of Catholic bishops in Bangalore this week on the subject of “life and liturgy”.

The refusal comes amid heightened tensions over a wave of ceremonies by Hindu groups “re-converting” Christians back to Hinduism.

Fr Stephen Alathara, deputy secretary general of the Catholic bishops’ conference of India, said the bishops would take up the matter with state authorities.

Speaking to the Times of India he said: “In the backdrop of incidents like Ghar Wapsi [“homecoming” ceremonies], the denial of visas could affect India’s secular status in the Vatican and in international circles.”

The visas, he said, had been denied on “technical grounds”.

An official at Vatican Radio suggested the problem may have been due to communications difficulties with India’s ambassador to the Holy See, Chitra Narayanan, who is resident at Bern, Switzerland, not the Vatican.

Fr William Nellikkal said: “It could be because of the delay in the non-resident ambassador to the Vatican not taking official charge by presenting the credentials before the Holy See.”

Last week concerns were raised about re-conversion ceremonies involving Christians from India’s poorest communities. It was reported that between 50 and 100 Christians were “welcomed back” to Hinduism in a ceremony in a remote part of West Bengal.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “The worry is that some kind of coercion is involved. The communities [involved in the recent incidents] are already vulnerable and the campaign seems quite aggressive and the combination is concerning.”