Shugden’s Ban in the Press

Media-Friendly Pope Francis: True Reformer of the Catholic Church?

By Johannes Nugroho on 12:14 pm December 19, 2013.

Pope Francis has just been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, undoubtedly an important recognition for a pontiff who has been endeavoring to bring the Roman Catholic Church closer to the realities of the 21st century, far more than his two predecessors had. The pope, in a recent letter to the regent of East Kutai, Kalimantan, has also expressed his intention to visit Indonesia, although not before the end of this year.

A humble man, Francis shunned wearing the papal diadem during his enthronement and has chosen a more accommodating tone toward issues on which the church had been known for its parochialism, such as homosexuality and women rights. But is Francis’ seemingly progressive stance the fruit of his conscience or has he embarked on a smart public relations campaign to save the Vatican from becoming an anachronism? Regardless of all the praise, how far has Francis really pushed for reforms?

Although prior to his pontificate Francis was always known to be a champion for the poor and a paragon of humility, he has always been known for his conservatism on matters of church doctrine. During his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he opposed the government’s distribution of free condoms, spoke out against abortion and was vocal in his opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2010, describing it as a “destructive proposal to God’s plan.”

Yet as pope, Francis said in an interview in July: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?” While this statement may seem open-minded to many, it is actually a skilful delivery of orthodox church doctrine. The Roman Catholic church has always maintained that the practice of homosexuality is sinful but never condemns gay people. Instead of employing belligerent language, Francis has managed to use a more compassionate way of preaching the same doctrine.

On the issue of women priests, Francis appears to use the same strategy. In a conciliatory gesture, he included two women among the twelve whose feet he washed during his first Easter as pope. Yet he remains opposed to the ordination of women as priests.

“Women play a role that’s more important than that of bishops, or priests. How? This is what we have to explain better publicly,” he said in an interview. If word alone is insufficient, in September this year Francis excommunicated Australian priest Greg Reynolds for his public support of the ordination of women priests.

Indubitably, there resides in the Vatican now a pope who is not media shy, who gives interviews freely and whose mastery of communication is such that even a discriminative doctrine can be made to look presentable, and even made to sound humane.

Francis’ better grasp of public image than his predecessors is perhaps parallel to and even possibly inspired by the current Dalai Lama, whose popularity in the Western world has done a lot to boost the image of Buddhism there.

The peaceful image of Buddhism in the West largely owes to the popularity of the Dalai Lama who has preached tolerance and peace throughout his exile from Tibet. In the propaganda war against the Chinese Communist Party, there is no doubt the Tibetan leader fares much better. And yet for all his alleged open-mindedness, it is also a fact that the Dalai Lama has declared the sect of Dorje Shugden illegal within Tibetan Buddhism. He has also called for the sect’s suppression, something that is rarely reported in the press.

In the face of a superior intransigent force like the Chinese, it is understandable that the Dalai Lama cultivated the rest of the world, for Tibet alone could not hope to stand alone and win. By the same token, Francis, who is a pragmatist after all, is wise to foster better relations with the increasingly secular world that sees the church’s adamant medievalism as a challenge to progress.

Francis’ pragmatism is apparent when one considers that during his campaign against the legalization of same-sex marriage in Argentina, he was at one point prepared to accede to the status of civil unions rather than marriage. In light of his flexibility on the celibacy of priests, which he said, “can change,” with times, this pope has shown that at the end of the day, the ends are more important than the means.

Time alone will perhaps reveal the true workings of the mind of Pope Francis. It is undeniable that he has succeeded in breathing fresh air into the Vatican so far. He certainly understands public relations better than most of his predecessors. Though it is still too early to say if Francis will actually manage the Herculean task of reforming the church, at least more humane news is set to emanate from the See of St. Peter.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer and businessman from Surabaya. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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5 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. What a sad irony that such a prominent figure as the Dalai Lama who has come to be seen as the embodiment of the values entrenched in Buddhism, is now its worst advertisement.

    What the news reported about the Dalai Lama is true of course and we can hardly say that the report is biased. If only the world knew half the hypocrisy that characterizes the real Dalai Lama and his government, and the terrible persecutions his own people have had to endure because of their faith in a deity they have worshipped for over three centuries.

    We see from this report that (I) no one can hide from their crime forever, not even the Dalai Lama and his gang passing off as a government of the Tibetans in exile and (II) it is no other than the Dalai Lama who is causing grievous harm to the credibility of Buddhism which can only act to frustrate the spread of the Dharma.

    If the Dalai Lama is seen as the personification of the Dharma, and he is found to be insincere and not credible, does that not also discredit the Dharma in the minds of those who no realize that the Dalai Lama represents a minority albeit a politically powerful one?

    All Tibetans around the world and honest Indian and Tibetan politicians should take note and then take actions to curb this rot in the public perception of Tibetan Buddhism, thanks to the tyranny of the Dalai Lama in enforcing such a despicable act against the basic rights of his people. What makes this doubly obscene is how the Dalai Lama trots the globe preaching peace and tolerance.

  2. The Dalai Lama’s reputation and peace image is fast waning in the West and definitely Tibetan Buddhism stands to lose its lustrous. More journalists and medias are itching and hungry to have more controversy news on their page. They certainly find the Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden controversy delicious and most exciting to publish in their news. Many independent medias and free lance writers who are not within any boundary of control are capable of splashing out the news to the mass audiences. To arrest this issue, CTA needs to lift the ban and restore peace.


  4. Pop Francis is indeed an example of a leader who understands his people and manages to install modern ideas into the Catholic faith. He is a breath of fresh air who people of this generation can relate to, and modern ideas.

    To have the Pope being compared to the Dalai Lama, the personality which is widely associated with peace and compassion, is definitely a boost for Buddhism and Christianity in the West. Both are great leaders, but the author also reveals the truth where the Dalai Lama is not all seen to be giving and compassionate all the time as stated that the Dalai Lama have imposed a ban on Dorje Shugden Practitioners and are declared illegal. This has a caused a separation in the Tibetan community.

    Let’s hope that there will be more progression in these two world religion as times goes by.

  5. An unbiased article, with matter-of-fact points put forth and presented to the reader. Thank you for this article, Johannes Nugroho.

    I guess time will really tell what Pope Francis will bring to the Vatican. His deeds, open-mindedness and actions so far have catapulted the Vatican into positive limelight and the honour of being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

    What particularly caught my attention was the mention of Dorje Shugden in the article. Being a Buddhist and a practitioner of this unjustly banned practise, it has brought me much joy to see it being mentioned in the press, something which I wished would have been publicized more and from henceforth, continue to be publicized. This ban has caused a whirlwind in the Tibetan community, and amongst Buddhist practitioners. It has split people apart and continue to cause much grief amongst many.

    A practise that has been around since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, today, the 14th Dalai Lama has called for the ban on this practise. But why, why the sudden change? Why is it that Dorje Shugden in which even the 5th Dalai Lama composed prayers for, is banned today, when the same mindstream has taken its incarnation in the form of the 14th Dalai Lama in this very lifetime? Why is the practise suddenly so bad when other highly attained masters are continuing to practise it today.

    If you take into consideration human rights, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and fostering peace, by implementing this ban, the Dalai Lama is contradicting his role as a strong advocate and leader of world peace because the very people and practitioners that should promote peace cannot even find that within themselves as they struggle with the ban.

    This feeling and frustration is multiplied hundreds of thousands of times throughout the world as Dorje Shugden practitioners cannot fathom the logic behind the ban – ultimately there is none.

    Thank you again for bring a little limelight to this issue by the mentioning of the Dorje Shugden ban in your article. At least, the power of your pen has brought some comfort to the many distraught hearts out there.

    For more information on Dorje Shugden, head on to:


    These websites are my respite.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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