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Pope Seeks to Improve Ties with China

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to write a letter to Catholics in China, and the Church will pursue diplomatic ties with Beijing as it tries to help its suffering faithful there, the Holy See said Satur
( [email protected] ) Jan 21, 2007 11:45 AM EST

VATICAN CITY AP - Pope Benedict XVI has decided to write a letter to Catholics in China, and the Church will pursue diplomatic ties with Beijing as it tries to help its suffering faithful there, the Holy See said Saturday after two days of talks here about China.

Top Chinese bishops, including Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken champion of religious liberty, debated the Chinese problems in discussions Friday and Saturday at the Vatican, along with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Benedict did not participate in the talks, but was briefed on them and has "benevolently decided to write a letter to Catholics in China," the Vatican press office said in a statement.

No details were immediately given the letter's contents or when and how it might be issued.

Beijing's ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power in China. Worship is only allowed in government-controlled churches, but as many as 10 million Catholics are estimated to belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.

China's state-sanctioned Catholic Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, unilaterally appointed three bishops last year.

Emerging from the discussions "was the willingness to pursue the path of respectful and constructive dialogue with the government authorities, to overcome the incomprehension of the past," the statement said.

The Vatican has long indicated that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, even at the cost of moving its embassy from Taiwan, but will not compromise on the tradition dictating that only the pope — and not a local church — can appoint bishops.

Taiwan's bishop were among those participating in the talks.

The statement also paid tribute to bishops, priests and rank-and-file clergy in China who "without yielding to compromise, have kept their loyalty to the Seat of St. Peter, at times even at the price of great suffering." The Seat of St. Peter refers to the pope and his authority.

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