Vatican condemns China’s interference in church affairs

Friday, December 17, 2010

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican Friday condemned a unilateral gathering earlier this month of China’s state-supervised Catholic church - saying bishops and priests had been forced to attend.

The Vatican’s protest, contained in an eight-point statement, is the latest salvo in a growing rift with Beijing, one that appears to reverse an improvement in relations that began with a 2007 letter by Pope Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics.

Friday’s statement expressed “profound sorrow” with the Eighth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives last week, which “was imposed” on numerous bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

“The manner in which it was convoked and its unfolding manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China.

“The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens’ lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China,” the statement added.

The Vatican also said it did not recognise the appointments at the gathering of “the so-called Episcopal Conference of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association”.

It stressed that Benedict has not given his blessing to the state-appointed body and that it does not include so-called “clandestine” bishops who are not recognised by Beijing, but are in communion with the pontiff.

Furthermore, the state-controlled bodies “includes bishops who are still illegitimate”, and are governed by statutes that contain elements incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

“It is deeply deplorable that an illegitimate bishop has been appointed as its president,” the Vatican statement said.

The incident comes in the wake of November’s unilateral ordination of a bishop in China’s northern city of Chengde that also drew Vatican condemnation.

These events “have unilaterally damaged the dialogue and the climate of trust that had been established,” between the Vatican and China, the statement said.

On Dec 1, during his weekly public audience Benedict called on Catholics to pray for the church in China which he said was experiencing “particularly difficult moments”.

Beijing and the Vatican broke off ties in 1951 after the Vatican recognized the government of Taiwan, the island that China’s ruling Communist Party sees as a breakaway province.

The Catholic Church in China is split into about five million members of the government-administered church, according to official statistics, and more than 10 million estimated members of the underground church, loyal to the Vatican.

Catholics in the underground church often face harassment from Chinese authorities. Many underground clerics have been placed under periods of house arrest or imprisoned.

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