China yesterday rejected as “imprudent” and “dangerous” the Vatican’s criticism of a high-level meeting of its official Catholic Church, which is not recognized by the pope, state media said.
The statement from the State Administration for Religious Affairs came after the Vatican accused China of “unacceptable and hostile acts” that provoked “a grave loss of trust,” following the assembly of Chinese bishops.
“The Vatican’s behavior is very imprudent and ungrounded,” Xinhua news agency quoted a spokesman for the administration as saying. “The Vatican’s position is well-known. It works to promote political ideas under the pretext of religious belief, which is very dangerous and will seriously harm the healthy development of Chinese Catholicism in China.”
The Chinese bishops elected a new chairman — Bishop Fang Xingyao (房興耀) — of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which controls the state-backed church, as well as a new leader of the council of Chinese bishops.
The Holy See had also criticized the ordination last month of a priest in the northern Chinese city of Chengde, which it had not approved.
Last week, the Vatican said in a statement that both incidents had “unilaterally damaged the dialogue and climate of trust that had been established” between the Holy See and China.
The Vatican said the meeting had been “imposed on numerous bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful,” describing China’s “persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens’ lives” as “a sign of fear and weakness.”
While the Holy See reaffirmed its “own wish to dialogue honestly,” it said the meeting was a sign of the state church’s “intransigent intolerance” and condemned the “grave violation of the human rights” of those forced to attend.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association does not acknowledge the authority of Pope Benedict XVI and is fiercely opposed to clergy in China who are loyal to the Vatican.
“China’s Catholics have the right to elect their own bishops. The Vatican does not understand China’s situation,” the association’s vice-president Liu Bainian (劉柏年) told reporters at the conclusion of the bishops’ meeting earlier this month.
The Vatican and China have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951, when the Holy See angered Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) communist government by recognizing the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime as the legitimate government of China.
The KMT fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists in 1949. As such, the Vatican is one of the few states that recognizes Taiwan.
Official tallies put the number of Catholics in China at 5.7 million, including members of both the unofficial and official churches.
Human rights groups say that those who remain loyal to the Vatican often suffer persecution, with detentions of bishops common.
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