Papal panel urges dialogue between Vatican and China


Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 5

A papal commission on relations with Beijing is to meet next week to review the position of the Church in China, the Vatican said on Saturday.

The commission, led by Vatican number two Tarcisio Bertone and including bishops from Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong, was formed following a pastoral letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics in May 2007.

It will meet from today until Wednesday.

At a previous meeting last March, the commission reasserted the Vatican’s wish for “constructive dialogue” with China, which has no relations with the Holy See and has set up its own official “patriotic” Church.

The pope’s strongly worded letter to the 8 million to 12 million Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome said the communist regime should respect their “authentic religious freedom” and warned that the official Church was “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”

The letter also expressed the hope for “a respectful and open dialogue” between the Vatican and Beijing.

China immediately rebuffed the appeal and urged the Vatican to refrain from creating new barriers to improved relations.

Beijing severed ties with the Vatican in 1951 in anger at the Holy See’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

In 1957, the split became permanent when China set up the Patriotic Association to formally oversee the country’s officially registered Catholics.

The association counts about 5 million members, while the Vatican estimates that as many as 8 million believers practice their faith in secret and are subject to persecution.

Some are concerned that the Vatican could abandon ties with Taiwan in favor of Beijing if China guaranteed religious freedom and allowed the pope to name Chinese bishops.

Beijing has imposed two conditions on the restoration of ties — the Vatican’s recognition of the “one China” policy that precludes independence for Taiwan and its acceptance that religious affairs are an internal Chinese matter.