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Saudi Arabia may allow churches

An Egyptian news website reports that an agreement may have been hammered out between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia that will allow churches to operate in the Kingdom.

The Egypt Independent reports the deal between Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa of the Muslim World League would allow churches to be built in Saudi Arabia–the first time in several generations. It has not been confirmed by the Vatican or Saudi authorities.

The news site reports the cardinal visited Saudi Arabia this year and met the royal family, urging the Saudi rulers to extend promised democratic reforms to include freedom of religion.

A key source of tension between the House of Saud and the Holy See is Saudi limits on Christian religious expression. Some 1.5 million Catholics currently reside in the Kingdom along with an unknown number of protestants–most of them are guest workers. They have no way to practice their faith. Mass is only available to Christian diplomats at a few foreign embassies and is off limits to foreign national laborers.

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Trump, has been personally given the responsibility of finding a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His efforts have taken him to the kingdom several dozen times and given him an opportunity to include advocating on behalf of Christians in the Saudi Kingdom. His work may be behind the development.

It was just two years ago when Pope Francis and Donald Trump traded harsh words with each other after the Pope criticized then candidate Trump. In the ensuing year, the Pope has criticized Trump for an overly ambitious willingness to work with the new Crown Prince as a cornerstone of Trump’s foreign policy push to bring change to the Middle East.

As the Trump administration, Saudis and Israelis continue to work for a Palestinian peace solution and build a coalition against Iran, the Vatican has remained mostly silent where Trump is concerned.

Observers see that silence as a reluctant nod from the Vatican that the Trump style of diplomacy is working.

The young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has already unleashed an historic reform effort that includes emancipating women, introducing music and cinema and cracking down on corruption.