Vatican’s delicate China mission runs into trouble | Daily News

Vatican’s delicate China mission runs into trouble

A general audience by Pope Francis.
A general audience by Pope Francis.

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is facing a complex row over the Vatican's warming ties with Communist China, which have sparked a new war of words with a Hong Kong cardinal and growing bitterness among some Chinese faithful.

Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic relations in 1951, and although ties have improved in recent years as China's Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain bishops.

The Vatican relaunched long-stalled negotiations three years ago and now seems to be nearing concrete steps towards solving the major stumbling bloc of how to designate bishops.

But the issue has flared up again after two underground Chinese bishops, recognised by the Pope, were asked by a top Vatican diplomat to resign in favour of state-sanctioned prelates, including one who was ex-communicated by the Vatican in 2011.

The news was first reported in January by the Vatican-linked AsiaNews website and since confirmed by Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of semi-autonomous Hong Kong, who is a staunch opponent of any rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing.

“Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely,” Zen said in an open letter on Monday, adding that the Communist government had introduced “harsher regulations limiting religious freedom”.

The Vatican's number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, did not deny the disagreement in a post on the Vatican Insider website, but said that the Hong Kong rebel was only expressing a “personal point of view” and was in no way a spokesman for Chinese Catholics.

Zen said he had appealed to the pope in a private meeting earlier this month in Rome, where he delivered a letter from one of the bishops who was asked to step aside, Peter Zhuang Jianjian.

The cardinal also indicated in his statement that the Pope, who has sought to improve ties with China, was not in agreement with his mediator in Beijing -- a claim which prompted a terse denial from the Vatican.

For Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, “there does not exist two churches in China, but two communities of the faithful calling for a gradual path towards reconciliation and unity”.

China's roughly 12 million Catholics are divided between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party, and an unofficial church which swears allegiance to the Vatican.

The secretive negotiations between the two sides could come down to the Vatican recognising some of the bishops chosen by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in exchange for a more benevolent attitude from Beijing.

The last word on nominations for future bishops could be given to the pope, following the suggestion of the China's underground Catholic authorities.

- AFP 


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