This past Easter Sunday Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to the Catholics in China which provided long-requested guidance to Chinese bishops in the country. The Pope outlined his opinions on how to respond to illicitly ordained bishops, as well as how to strengthen ties with the Patriotic Association and the Communist government. The government founded the Patriotic Association in 1957 to manage the administration and life of the Catholic Church in China, which is referred to as the "official church." The underground church declares loyalty to Rome alone. These strained Sino-Vatican relations have existed since the Communist came to power over fifty years ago.
[...] Kangzi held fast in his Sinocentric view of the world and his expulsion of Christian missionaries would prove to have lasting consequences. These lasting consequences have continued to plague the Sino-Vatican relationship up until today. Dialogue between the two sides was not able to continue after the Catholic expulsion, allowing little time for concessions to be made. Though the relationship has improved drastically in recent years there are still two major factors which have continued to impair the relationship between the People's Republic of China and the Vatican. [...]
[...] The Vatican's present diplomatic links with Taiwan have reached their lowest level and any further lowering would mean the breaking off of diplomatic relations altogether, creating a climate favorable to improving the relationship with China. Independence Issue The problem of the independence of the Chinese Church is the more complex of the two present-day problems. Simply put, the Chinese Church, or more precisely, the Chinese Government which controls most church affairs, wants to remain independent from Vatican control. The Patriotic Association, a government creation, believes it has the right to act independently from Rome, while still maintain some sort of relationship. [...]
[...] In the "Olympic formula" both the Chinese Olympic committee and the Taiwanese Olympic committee are members of the IOC enjoying the same rights and status, although the Chinese team is recognized under the name "China" whereas the Taiwanese team is recognized under the name "Chinese Taipei." This formula indicates that there exists the possibility of finding a suitable arrangement whereby Taiwan can maintain religious and perhaps certain political ties with the Vatican without arousing too many objections from Beijing. While there can be no denying that relations between China and the Vatican have drastically improved in recent years, there is still much to be done if a full compromise is to be reached. [...]
[...] This problem is not peculiar to Sino-Vatican relations as similar problems exist elsewhere in relations between China and various countries, as well as international organizations. The way in which this problem has been resolved in other settings could facilitate a quick and painless settlement of the relationship. The Vatican has the interesting status of being both a sovereign nation and transnational organization. From the nation perspective, Beijing has laid down the precondition that any country wishing to establish diplomatic relations with China must sever official ties with Taiwan first. [...]
[...] Catholics who have openly proclaimed their loyalty to the Pope in defiance of the independent stance of the Chinese Church have been imprisoned and their seminaries forced to close. At present it is estimated that about 100 Catholics are still in detention, including some elderly priests. Recently, the issue of independence and autonomy was raised again at the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Patriotic Association held in August 1987. A prominent member of the CCP Politburo, Xi Zhongxun, warned against the interference in China's internal matters and the domination of her religious affairs by foreign religious organizations and individual. [...]
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