Vatican says Pope won't meet Dalai Lama
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican said on Monday Pope Benedict did not have any plans to meet the Dalai Lama next month, contrary to a previous announcement that had irked China and raised concern about efforts to improve relations.
A Vatican official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters in October the Pope would meet the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism on December 13. The Dalai Lama is considered a traitor by Beijing since leading a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
China responded by saying the meeting might "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" and urged the Pontiff to take actions showing he "is sincere in improving relations".
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Monday "no audience is planned" with the Dalai Lama and added there had never been an official announcement of a meeting.
The Pope has made improving ties with China a major goal of his pontificate and issued a 55-page open letter in June saying he sought to restore full diplomatic relations with Beijing that were severed two years after the 1949 Communist takeover.
Still, the Vatican has long opened its doors to the Dalai Lama but has kept such encounters low-profile.
Pope Benedict held a "strictly private" and "strictly religious" audience with him in October last year, but omitted the Dalai Lama's name from the list of people received by the Pontiff that day.
The Dalai Lama has this year met U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, as well as leaders of Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
The diplomatic push has been met with a stream of vitriol from Chinese officials and state media, calling the 72-year-old a "splittist" bent on independence for Tibet and accusing him of orchestrating anti-Chinese activities in the remote region.
The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Italy next month and politicians are debating whether he should be allowed to address parliament.