Pope Francis has reportedly refused to meet with the Dalai Lama over fears about the potential impact on the Catholic Church’s relations with China.
The request was declined “for obvious reasons concerning the delicate situation” with China, a Vatican spokesman told Reuters today. The Dalai Lama understood the situation, he added.
The Tibetan monk, who was in Rome for a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners, told Italian media he had approached the Vatican about a meeting but was told it could create inconveniences.
A Church official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters the decision was “not taken out of fear but to avoid any suffering by those who have already suffered”.
The Vatican said the Pope would not meet any of the laureates and that Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin had sent them a message on the pope's behalf.
In China the Catholic Church is divided into two communities - an official Church known as the Patriotic Association answerable to the Communist Party, and an underground Church that swears allegiance only to the pope in Rome.
The Vatican has had no formal diplomatic ties to Beijing since shortly after the Communist Party took power in 1949, but has been trying to improve relations with China.
In August Francis became the first Pope allowed to cross Chinese air space on his way to South Korea. During his flight, he sent a message of goodwill to China.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said at the time that Beijing was sincere about wanting to improve relations with the Vatican.
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
1/12 The Pro-Gay Pope
In just a year, Pope Francis has managed to change the public perception of the Catholic Church, and the stance it takes on civil issues, like gay rights. Despite originally protesting the legalisation of gay marriage in his native Argentina some years ago, he told reporters this year: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
2/12 The Rebel Pope
No other Pope has urged a shake-up of the Catholic Church quite like Pope Francis, a true rebel of the dioceses. Who, incidentally, used to be a night club bouncer.
3/12 The Graffiti Pope
Pope Francis become... SUPER POPE in this Vatican-approved street art. But was he happy with the reference to the fictional DC comic character?"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said. So, that's a no, then.
4/12 The Biker Pope
Yes, the Pope used to own a Harley Davidson. And yes, he auctioned it off this year and donated the proceeds to a charity that feeds the hungry in Rome. Very Papal.
5/12 The ‘Blue’ Pope
Dropping the 'F' bomb during Sunday service? Classic Pope Francis. Sadly, down to a Spanish-speaking slip of the Italian language rather than pure bad-assery.
6/12 The ‘Because I’m Worth It’ Pope
That awkward moment when your Papal hat blows off, forcing your barnet into Sesame Street-like spikes. Pope Francis has been there.
7/12 The Chocolate Pope
Imagine the Pope's delight (horror?) when he was presented with a giant chocolate replica of himself outside the Vatican by by students on a chocolatier course at the Accademia of Maestri Cioccolatieri, near Venice.
8/12 The Rock Star pope
The one and only religious leader ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Introducing... Pope Francis.
9/12 The People’s Pope
His U-turn attitude towards sexuality won him Time magazine's coveted Person of the Year accolade, and the cover of gay rights magazine The Advocate.
10/12 The Merchandise Pope
Thongs, mugs, onesies, earrings and even a baby mobile adorned with decapitated Pope heads, the 'Francis Effect' has seen sales of Papal merchandise soar by 200% over the last year.
11/12 The Fashion Pope
The only Pope, as far as we're aware, to be compared to fashion royalty (Karl Lagerfeld. Yes way.) and win Esquire's Most Stylish Man of 2013 award, too.
12/12 The Modern Pope
Let it be said, Pope Francis knows a thing or two about social media. He might be a way off 'doing a Dalai' and opting for Instagram, but he's not above posing for the odd 'Selfie' on Twitter.
The main point of contention between Beijing and the Vatican is which side should have the final say in the appointment of bishops. Another stumbling block is the Holy See's recognition of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
The last meeting between a pope and the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, was in 2006, when he met former pope Benedict XVI.
The Rome gathering was set to take place in South Africa in October but the government denied the Dalai Lama a visa.
Additional reporting by Reuters