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5 May, 2018 17:04

Vatican ‘denies’ agreement signed with Saudi Arabia includes building churches

Vatican ‘denies’ agreement signed with Saudi Arabia includes building churches

News that Saudi Arabia was to allow the construction of its first Christian church following a visit from a top Vatican official recently made headlines, but the claim appears to be overblown or premature.

According to the Daily Mail, the Holy See has simply dismissed the story as “false.” RT has contacted the Vatican to request a more detailed clarification. The original source of the news, cited by most outlets, was an article in the Egypt Independent, which was published on Friday. It has since been removed, though a cached copy is still accessible.

The foundation of the article was a visit by one of the top Vatican officials, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, to Saudi Arabia last month.

As a result of the visit, Tauran signed an accord with the Muslim World League, a government-backed body responsible for spreading the Wahhabi form of Islam that is prevalent in the Gulf kingdom.

While the text of the agreement has not been widely circulated, the only confirmed detail from Rome’s own official sources is that Saudi and Vatican delegations will stage regular inter-religious summits.

Tauran himself told interviewers on his return that the visit could signal greater “openness” and desire for “rapprochement” with Christianity from Saudi Arabia, where all public worship of religions other than Islam is forbidden, despite the presence of an estimated 1.5 million Christians, who are mostly migrant workers from Asia, in the country.

At some point, the general message appears to have been inflated into specific plans, which so far have not been voiced. It is, however, notable that top Saudi officials have made mending ties with Christianity a prong in their modernization plan, with de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman meeting with prominent Catholic clergymen (and also rabbis) while in New York in March.

READ MORE: ISIS-linked propaganda poster threatens Christmas attack on the Vatican

Nonetheless, for the moment, Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the Gulf without a single official Christian church (one recently opened in neighboring Qatar) and it is also instructive that this is not the first time that church-building plans appear to have fizzled out, with similar announcements having been made in 2008, only to be blocked at a later stage.

EDITORIAL NOTE: In response to RT’s request for clarification on the matter, the Vatican said it can confirm there has been no agreement made for the building of churches in Saudi Arabia.