Vatican denies reports that it signed deal with Saudi government to build churches for Christians

(Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo)FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 24, 2017.

The Vatican has stated that the reports claiming that it signed a deal with the government of Saudi Arabia to build churches from Christian were "false."

A report published by the Egypt Independent on Wednesday has claimed that the agreement was signed by the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa and the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican and the French cardinal of the Catholic Church Jean-Louis Tauran.

The article has since been removed from Egypt Independent's website, but it can still be accessed through Google's web cache.

The agreement to build churches for Christians was supposedly a part of the Saudi Arabian government's effort to demonstrate the role of religions and cultures in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Tauran had met with members of the Saudi Royal family earlier this year during his visit to the Middle Eastern country.

During the visit, Tauran and the Saudi crown prince discussed the government's use of media and technology in its campaign to "disrupt extremist recruitment and promote tolerance."

"I think we have two enemies: extremism and ignorance," Tauran stated at the time, according to Daily Mail.

"I don't believe in the clash of civilisation but rather in the clash of ignorance. Most of the time people react because they don't know who you are or who they are," he added.

The cardinal had reportedly signed an agreement with the Muslim World League, a government-backed organization that has been tasked with propagating the Wahhabi form of Islam.

The deal reportedly involves regular inter-religious summits organized by Saudi and Vatican delegations.

Upon his return, Tauran stated that his visit could be an indication of greater "openness" and desire for "rapprochement" with Christianity from Saudi Arabia, the only country in the Middle East without a Christian church.

In recent months, Saudi leaders have met with various Christian leaders, including the head of Lebanon's Maronite church, Beshara Rai.

Rai had met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to Riyadh in November.

Additionally, the prince had also met with Jewish and Catholic leaders during his trip to New York in March.

The reformist prince has been trying to clean up the image of his kingdom, which has often been linked to jihadist ideology.

It is estimated that 1.5 million Christians, most of whom are migrant workers, are currently residing in Saudi Arabia, where all forms of public worship are forbidden except for Islam.

According to Russia Today, a proposal to build a church was announced back in 2008, but the plan was abandoned at a later stage.

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