Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Chinese official puts onus on Vatican for better ties

AP , BEIJING

Chinese Catholics pray at Beijing's state-sanctioned South Cathedral yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

China sought on Friday to pressure the Vatican in their tussle over Chinese Catholics, with a senior official saying the Holy See must improve political relations before gaining a say on religious matters.

Liu Bainian (劉柏年), vice chairman of the state-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, said that the Vatican needs to change tack and must first negotiate diplomatic relations with Beijing.

"Once the relationship between the Chinese government and the Vatican improves, the church issues can be resolved," Liu said in a telephone interview.

The remarks, coming from a body that oversees the state-sanctioned Catholic church, were the latest setback to tentative efforts by Beijing and the Vatican to overcome decades of antagonism.

In the past week, the Chinese church ordained two bishops without papal consent, and the Vatican invoked a rule ordering excommunication for those who took part in the ordination.

The rancorous unraveling saddened Chinese Catholics and left religious experts wondering whether the two sides could muster the political will to heal the long-standing rift.

After coming to power in 1949, the communists set up a state-backed Catholic church outside the Vatican's authority, forcing Catholics to divide their loyalties.

While some of China's estimated 10 million to 14 million Catholics shun the state-approved churches and others dislike the "underground" ones, most Catholics and clergy circulate between both worlds.

Pope Benedict XVI, after his election a year ago, appealed to both, saying it was time to unify the church in China.

His foreign minister said the Vatican was ready to meet one of China's conditions: moving its embassy from Taiwan to establish diplomatic relations.

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