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China and Vatican Tensions Continue Despite Recent Consecration

Chinese-Vatican relations remain strained despite the papal-approved consecration of auxiliary bishop Pei Junmin in Shenyang, following the appointment of two bishops without Vatican consent.
( [email protected] ) May 09, 2006 01:04 PM EDT

Chinese-Vatican relations remain strained despite the papal-approved consecration of auxiliary bishop Pei Junmin in Shenyang, following the appointment of two bishops without Vatican consent.

A Chinese spokesman, Liu Jianchao, from the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the Vatican, Tuesday, of undermining current China-Vatican dialogue with its demand to control the appointment on Chinese Catholic Bishops.

The Vatican, last week, blasted China over its decision to ordain two bishops and reports Beijing had pressured Chinese bishops to take part in the ceremonies. A spokesman for the Holy See accused China of violating religious freedom.

"There's no issue of the Chinese government meddling in religious affairs," Liu said at a news briefing in Beijing, as quoted by the Associate Press.

Liu also criticized the Vatican for denouncing the appointments of the last two bishops said that such actions were "seriously out of step with the Vatican’s statements that it was to improve China-Vatican relations."

Pei Junmin, age 36, was received Sunday by a large audience of parishioners and foreign dignitaries including U.S. Catholic priests.

Liu Bainan, secretary general of the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said that decisions to ordain Pei were made last month at the Liaoning diocese, as quoted by the New York Times.

The gathering was approved by the Vatican, according to a report by AsiaNews, which is affiliated with the Vatican government.

Father Benoît Vermander, a Sino-Vatican relations expert with the Ricci Institute, a Jesuit-affiliated think-tank in Taipei, Taiwan, said that the recent flip-flop decision-making may indicate disunity within Chinese policy-makers.

"It's still hard to speak about one policy in Beijing," he said. "It is a fragmented policy; different people are doing different things," he wrote in a commentary to BBC news.

Vatican City and Beijing have not had normalized relations since the 1949 Communist victory in China, and the subsequent expulsion of the Vatican diplomat in 1951.

Beijing indicated earlier that Vatican-Chinese relations cannot improve unless the Pope severs relations with Taiwan, which China considers a rogue-province. The Vatican had openly stated that it would consider breaking from Taipei in hopes of facilitating the normalization of Sino-Vatican relations.

The over 10 million-member Chinese Catholic Church is currently split between those who worship at government-sanctioned churches and loyalists, who remain loyal to the Pope alone and worship in unregistered "underground" churches.

China would pursue negotiations that would eventually improve ties with the Vatican, but the Chinese state-controlled Catholic church, would chose its own bishop, said Liu.