In the news conference, Mr. Burke suggested that the pope had privately raised the issue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose own reputation has sunk with the weight of the crisis.
“He is a very free man,” Mr. Burke said, when asked if the pope had brought it up.
But the pope was not willing to publicly air the issue. As a result, his bishops and spokesman were, remarkably, left to downplay his influence to bring about change and depict him as manipulated by the country’s powerful interests.
At the news conference, Bishop John Hsane Hgyi of Pathein, Myanmar, was asked whether the pope had requested that he and other prelates concern themselves with the crisis in western Rakhine State. “It might be a little bit beyond his authority,” the bishop said, to do so.
Bishop Hsane Hgyi went on to cast doubt on whether any ethnic cleansing was actually taking place: “I don’t know whether it is true or not.” (“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Khin Maung Myint, a self-described Rohingya Muslim who attended the news conference.)
And asked why the pope’s schedule changed at the last minute to meet with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing before Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Mr. Burke said the general had moved up the meeting. “I’m sure the pope would have preferred meeting the general after he had done the official visits,” Mr. Burke said.
Mr. Burke suggested that the pope might be more at liberty to talk about the Rohingya when he meets with refugees in Bangladesh later this week, and argued that his silence did not take away from his previous championing — from the Vatican — of the Muslim minority as “brothers.”
It was likely not the defensive note that the Vatican had hoped the Myanmar leg of the trip would end on.