China open to Vatican talks, but Catholics must be patriots

China open to Vatican talks, but Catholics must be patriots
A man prays during mass on Christmas Eve at the South Cathedral official Catholic church in Beijing.

China has said it is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican - as long as its Catholics are loyal to Beijing and their religion is adapted to Chinese society.

A top official made the remarks at a meeting of representatives of China's official Catholic church taking place this week in Beijing, state media said.

Wang Zuo'an, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said the Chinese government hoped that the Vatican could adopt a flexible and pragmatic attitude and take concrete actions to create favourable conditions for improving relations, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

China severed relations with the Holy See in 1951 after the communists took over and the officially atheistic government closed churches and imprisoned priests, some for decades.

Worship is officially allowed only in state-authorised churches outside the Pope's authority, although many of China's estimated 12 million Catholics are thought to attend underground churches.

Mr Wang stressed the importance of patriotism within religion and "pushing ahead with the sinicisation of Catholicism".

The ruling Communist Party has long feared that opposition to its rule could be spread by religious and other civic groups outside its control.

In May last year President Xi Jinping called for religions to adapt to Chinese society, which he termed the "sinicisation of religion".

Beijing insists that the party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association has the authority to appoint Chinese bishops, a right that the Holy See says belongs to the Pope alone. This dispute over bishop nominations is the most vexing stumbling block preventing the re-establishment of diplomatic relations.

Pope Francis said earlier this year that Beijing and the Vatican had resumed working groups on the naming of bishops issue and although he was "optimistic" of an agreement, it would take time.

Just last week, the Vatican said it was saddened that the ordination of two new Chinese bishops was marred by the presence of a bishop ordained without the Pope's consent.

It also said it was awaiting the outcome of this week's meeting of the Chinese Catholic Church and hoped it would give Catholics in China confidence in the Vatican-China dialogue.

AP

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