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China-Vatican Dialogue Underway, Hong Kong Cardinal Says

Despite criticism from Chinese government, the Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen once again commented publicly on the China-Vatican relationship, saying that 'real talks' have already begun.
( [email protected] ) Apr 11, 2006 01:45 PM EDT

Despite criticism from Chinese government, the Hong Kong cardinal once again commented publicly on the China-Vatican relationship, saying that "real talks" have already begun.

On a Sunday TV talk show "Newsline" on Hong Kong's second biggest TV channel ATV World, the Bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen responded to the statement made by Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, to the official state news agency China Daily last Monday.

The statement is considered important as that is the very first time the Chinese government has publicly admitted that contacts exist between China and the Vatican on diplomatic relations: "The contact between us has been continuing all along but it is hard to set a timetable."

Zen, who is a strong advocate of democracy and religious freedom in China, confirmed the statement as saying, "My impression is that they've entered into real talks." He added that negotiators were meeting in Rome, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Given the negotiation underway, Zen, standing in line with the Vatican, reiterated the condition that must be fulfilled by the Chinese government before the dialogue to proceed. Zen said there must be religious freedom in China, even though the Vatican wasn't insisting on absolute religious freedom.

The ordination of bishops is a major argument between the Vatican and China. China insists that the government must have a say on the ordination and it prohibits any church or clergy to be loyal to the Pope. As it is one of the pre-requisites set by the Chinese government for the Sino-Vatican relations, the Vatican has been trying to compromise on the issue.

Zen, on the talk show, said that the Vatican would be willing to show China a list of candidates and allow Beijing to share its opinion, but that the Vatican should have the final say, according to AP.

"The final word should not be exclusively on the side of an atheist government," said Zen.

Zen was asked to comment on the level of religious freedom now, Zen did not directly answer the question, AP reported.

"I think we can hope that the cage will become bigger and bigger, and we hope at the end they'll let the birds fly," the cardinal said.