The Chinese government said it is ready to restore diplomatic relations with the Vatican under the new Pope, Benedict XVI, provided the Holy See severs its relations with Taiwan, recognizes the People’s Republic of China and guarantees “non-interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
The preconditions for the normalization of relations with the Vatican, which Beijing halted when the Communist Party took power in 1949, are nothing new.
But Ye Xiao Wen, director general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, reiterated these demands when asked by members of an ecumenical Canadian delegation visiting here in April about the relationship between the Patriotic Catholic Church of China, composed of churches officially registered with and sanctioned by the government, and other Catholic churches which have formed underground churches.
(Six million Catholics pray in about 5,000 registered churches; there are several million other underground Catholic believers who maintain contact with the Vatican and have their own clandestine bishops. Human rights groups say some of these bishops have suffered imprisonment and torture.)
“Our law states that religious organizations should not be dominated by foreign forces,” said Mr. Ye. “The prohibitions may seem strange but they are important. We were once dominated by foreign powers so we felt the need to incorporate that in our constitution. Also, Taiwan is part of Chinese territory.”
Relations between China and the Vatican hit rock bottom in 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized four Chinese Roman Catholics and other foreign missionaries killed in past religious purges in China. Beijing called Vatican’s action, which coincided with China’s National Day (Oct. 1), “a severe provocation to the 1.2 billion Chinese people.” Xinhua, China’s official news agency, maintained that the missionaries killed had played “accomplices to the imperialist and colonialist invasion of China, committing unpardonable crimes and (deserved) the punishments they received.”
Delegation members noted little mention of Pope John Paul’s funeral in the Chinese newspapers and television. The delegation, from the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches in Canada, arrived in Shanghai on April 7, the day of the funeral.