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Sino-Vatican Relations: Past, Present and Future

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modern history
Boston College

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  1. Introduction
  2. The arrival of Christianity into China
    1. The Jesuits
    2. The Rites Controversy
    3. The Sino Vatican relationship
  3. Two China Problem
    1. The current diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the Vatican
    2. Archbishop Antonio Riberi
    3. The new relationship with Taiwan
    4. The problem of the independence of the Chinese Church
  4. The idea of the self consecration
  5. The expulsion of the papal representative and foreign missionaries
  6. Prospects of reconciliation
  7. Conclusion

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.[2] 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.[5] 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. [...]

[...] Out of the 144 dioceses important ones such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Tianjin and Wuhan were all in foreign hands. Those dioceses under the see of Chinese bishops were in fact controlled by their foreign counterparts.[6] Another less emphasized reason on the independence issue put forward by some Chinese clergymen is that all bishops are equal before God. They believe that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is but one bishop among many in the world. He should not have the final say on the consecration of bishops throughout the world, but rather should be supporting any appointments from Rome. [...]

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