The massive protests against Myanmar's military rulers have included thousands of Buddhist monks facing military troops and riot police armed with guns, clubs, and tear gas. Security forces raided Buddhist monasteries and hundreds of monks were also arrested. But the Associated Press reports that Catholic clergy and religious have been ordered to avoid open activism and street protest.
Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of the archdiocese of Yangon explained this policy in a Wednesday interview with Vatican Radio. "In accordance to canon law and the social teachings of the Catholic Church, priests and religious are not to be involved in any party politics ... and demonstrations."
Though the actions of clergy were restricted, the archbishop insisted that the laity were free to participate in the protests. "Catholics as citizens of the country are free to act as they deem fit. The clergy and the religious can give them proper guidance."
Bulletins conveying these orders have been posted at churches in Yangon, the former Myanmar capital city once known as Rangoon. The bulletins also urge Catholics to pray, fast, and offer Mass for their country.
One Western priest in Yangon, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, has disavowed silence. He used a sermon to call for more international pressure: "The situation now in Myanmar should not be deemed as 'business as usual.' What's happening can be likened to a rape." Some residents have sought shelter in his church, fearing security forces' raids on their homes.
Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday voiced concerns about Myanmar's political convulsions and conveyed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the turmoil, which has sometimes escalated into violence. Addressing a gathering of pilgrims in Italy, he said he was following "with great trepidation the very serious events" in Myanmar.
Though predominantly Buddhist, Myanmar has about 450,000 Catholics at around one percent of the population. Christians as a whole make up approximately four percent.