Taiwan's President told a top Vatican official that he hoped ties will continue despite growing speculations that the Vatican will break ties with Taiwan in order to open a dialogue with China.
Rumors started to circulate when newspapers, such as the South China Morning Post, and media in Taiwan and Hong Kong, suggested that a high-profile visit from a senior official from the Vatican means the end of diplomatic relations.
However, the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released a statement that the senior cardinal was invited by Taiwan, on Nov. 21-26, to receive a medal for such roles as strengthening the relations between Taiwan and the Vatican, and "it was arranged long ago."
On Friday at the Presidential Office, President Chen Shui-bian told Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a former Vatican foreign minister, that Taiwan and the Vatican share the "same beliefs in democracy, human rights, freedom and peace," Agence France-Presse reported him as saying.
Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) reported that he added, "I believe that such values will continue to thrive as bilateral ties between the two countries flourish."
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has made it increasingly clear since he took over the Papacy that he will continue to reestablish the torn relationship between China and the Vatican that was severed in 1951 when the communist party took control over the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Sources report that Beijing has hinted that a dialogue will not start until the Vatican cuts ties with Taiwan.
In response to this, Taiwan officials continue to stand firm saying that it is unlikely that the Vatican will start talks with China until they recognize the Holy See's authority over the Chinese Catholic churches.
Chen said to CNA that Tauran regards Taiwan as a bridge between the Chinese Catholic church and the Vatican, noting that through Taiwan, the Chinese Catholics are still connected to the Holy See.
At the ceremony, the Associated Press reported that Chen condemned the lack of religious freedom on the mainland, echoing a theme that was raised by U.S. President George W. Bush, while he was in Beijing last week.
In a statement made several days ago by the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney spoke on Vatican-China relations and said, "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," according to AP.