BEIJING (AP) - Bishop Fu Tieshan, the hard-line chairman of the state-sanctioned Catholic Church who sparred with the Vatican over China's insistence on appointing its own bishops, died on Friday. He was 76.
The government-backed church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, refuses to recognize the Vatican's authority, but many clergy and ordinary Catholics remain loyal to the pope and have been persecuted for it.
As the top authority of the Chinese church, Fu clashed with the Vatican over China's right to independently appoint bishops without papal approval and the Vatican's diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.
Association Vice Chairman Liu Bainian said Fu died Friday night in a Beijing hospital of lung cancer.
Liu said arrangements were being made for a funeral and that there was "no time yet to think about Fu's replacement."
"He was a very respected leader who guided believers and priests in building up the Chinese church and worked to make it in line with our socialism with Chinese characteristics," Liu said.
In an obituary published Saturday by AsiaNews, a missionary news service close to the Vatican, Rev. Bernardo Cervellera wrote that Fu was "adored by the (Communist) regime, disliked by his flock."
"Perhaps Fu's death will open a new chapter in the choice of a new pastor in Beijing who is more attentive to a harmonious society and more faithful to the Catholic Church," Cervellera said.
Fu was born in north China's Hebei province in 1931 and served as a priest and later a bishop in the Beijing Catholic Diocese. He was the appointed head of China's church in 1998 and in 2003 became a vice chairman to the standing committee of China's legislature, the National People's Congress.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Fu in the hospital on Friday. Liu confirmed he had been visited in recent days by top state leaders but refused to give their names.
Beijing made Fu a bishop in 1979 though the appointment lacked approval by the pope, the Post said.
Father Peter Zhao Jianmin, one of Bishop Fu's two assistants, called him "quite a charitable old person who was dedicated to his job."
China's ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power. Worship is only allowed in government-controlled churches but as many as 12 million Catholics are estimated to belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.
The Vatican has long indicated that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with China, 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.
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