China and the Vatican

Beijing, Vatican Appear Eager for Ties
May 29, 2005 12:29 PM EDT

BEIJING - China and the Vatican look more eager than ever to forge diplomatic relations after decades of estrangement, and the figure pushing Beijing to make a deal could be an unexpected one - the leader of rival Taiwan.

President Chen Shui-bian's trip to Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II alarmed Beijing, foreign observers say. It reminded China that Vatican City, as the last European country with ties to Taiwan, gives the island a stage to assert its autonomy.

After years of official indifference, that shock gave Chinese leaders a "stronger desire" to persuade the Vatican to switch relations from Taipei to Beijing, said Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong.

"I think Chen did an important thing to bring the Vatican and the Beijing government together," Lam said. "He could be the catalyst of the process."

Neither Beijing nor the Holy See has said publicly they are talking formally about establishing relations. But leaders of the world's most populous country and its largest religious denomination have publicly declared their desire for ties.

The key sticking point is what relationship Beijing will allow the Vatican to have with Roman Catholics in China, who were ordered in 1951 to break off relations with the pope.

Healing the split would give Beijing an important symbolic victory in its campaign to isolate Taiwan on the world stage. The Vatican would get access to a growth area for Christianity, as millions of Chinese turn to religion amid wrenching social change.

"We are sincere in developing relations with the Vatican," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.

John Paul's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, has invited countries without official ties to the Vatican to work on forming them - a remark that a Vatican diplomat said was aimed at China.

Breaking relations with Taiwan could be relatively easy for the Holy See because its religious hierarchy would remain in place on the self-ruled island. The Vatican already has talked with clergy in Taiwan to prepare them for a possible diplomatic break, said the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, director of the Rome-based religious news agency AsiaNews.

More contentious would be the clash between China's rejection of any outside role in its religious bodies and the Vatican's insistence on appointing and supervising bishops.

Communist leaders allow worship only in churches run by the official Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which appoints its own priests and bishops. It recognizes the pope as a spiritual leader but rejects a Vatican role in church affairs.

The official church claims 4 million followers but foreign experts say as many as 12 million more worship in secret, unofficial churches that remain loyal to the Vatican. Priests and bishops of the underground church are regularly arrested and harassed.

Bishops in the official church "are pressing the government to understand that the link to the Vatican is necessary to their faith," Cervellera said.

Many official bishops already have an informal link to Rome. Since 1982, more than 60 have obtained Vatican endorsement of their religious status. Many are believed to be in regular contact with Rome.

The official church has its own contacts, sending theologians to Rome from time to time to keep up with church doctrine.

On the day of John Paul's death in April, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium was in Beijing on the highest-level known visit by a church figure since the 1951 break.

Danneels was to meet with leaders of the Patriotic Catholic Association, but his trip was cut short when he left for Rome following John Paul's death.

Previous tentative efforts at contacts have sputtered.

In 1999, Chinese officials reportedly said they would start talks with the Vatican. But just months later, China's official church shocked the Vatican by investing five new bishops in January 2000 on the same day the Holy See also elevated bishops - a gesture that appeared to belittle the pope's authority.

Even after the new urgency lent to diplomatic efforts by Chen's trip to Rome, Lam said, "it will take time for the Chinese government to change its attitude toward the Vatican."


Associated Press reporter Stephan Grauwels in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved
Bit heavy.
I assume the point is
If The Vatican transfers its recogntion, then Tiwan becomes a state 'No real state' recognizes.
So would have trouble declaring Independdance and in this way a WAR can be adverted.
Head hurts 9 in the morning and I think the monsoons just checked in about 30 seconds ago.

Similar threads

Latest Threads