A senior cardinal from the Vatican is visiting Taiwan this week, raising great concern over the trip's possible influence on the China-Vatican relationship.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is head of the Vatican Library and a former foreign affairs minister of the Holy See, is visiting Taiwan from Nov. 21 to Nov. 26 at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), a MOFA official announced Friday, according to the Taiwan-based Central News Agency (CNW).
Under the leadership of the Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican has made several efforts to recover the tie with China, which has been broken since 1951. Since the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) was established in that year, the Chinese government has prohibited churches loyal to the Pope.
According to sources, Taiwan, however, remains as a roadblock in rebuilding the Vatican-China relationship, as Beijing insists diplomatic ties cannot be resumed unless Rome first ends links with Taiwan.
A report from the Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post that made the top headline last Friday speculated that the Cardinal's visit to Taiwan this time could possibly be the "part of the final negotiations between the two sides" in order to open talks with China.
However, according to Taipei Times, the Taiwan foreign ministry deputy spokesman David Wang clarified, "Do not be misled by the media reports, which are entirely speculated on. The cardinal is visiting Taiwan at our invitation, and it was arranged long ago."
Nevertheless, Wang said to Taipei Times last Saturday, "The agenda is open, and no issues have been prearranged for discussion." Therefore, there is still a possibility that the progress of contacts between the Vatican and China will be discussed.
Wang added that apart from visiting the ministry and several Roman Catholic universities in Taiwan, Cardinal Tauran is scheduled to give a speech entitled "Is the Holy See a Political Power?" at Taipei's Fu-jen Catholic University on Tuesday and another speech at Provident University, where he will also be awarded an honorary doctorate degree on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Vatican-China relationship has become one of the hot discussion topics, especially after U.S. President George W. Bush has visited China and urged Beijing to expand the country's religious freedom. Bush particularly suggested the leadership to invite Vatican officials to China discuss religious freedom, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney, issued a statement on Monday addressing the Vatican-China relationship, AP reported.
"China has a great opportunity following the president's visit to become more open to the Holy See and to work toward greater freedoms for its Catholic citizens and indeed for those of all faiths," Rooney stated.