Sticking points in Sino-Vatican relations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am

While previously frosty Sino-Vatican relations appear to be thawing, observers said major issues remained to be solved.

As top Vatican officials have made clear, Beijing's insistence on the Holy See cutting ties with Taiwan is not an issue. The problem lies with who should appoint mainland bishops and administer dioceses on the mainland.

One major issue for negotiations is how the Pope could maintain his authority to appoint bishops, while giving some voice to Beijing. The Holy See is prepared to follow a model where it provides a few candidates for Beijing to choose, before the Pope gives his final blessings for the new bishop.

But for a full resumption of ties to work, the Vatican is likely to insist on other matters upon which it is not prepared to concede.

One such matter is the required freedom for mainland bishops to communicate with the Holy See's future representative in Beijing after the resumption of ties, and the right for bishops to travel freely overseas to attend meetings.

The Vatican will also try to persuade Beijing to relax its controls over who can enter seminaries to receive religious training, and on Beijing's practice of transferring the administrative power of diocesan affairs from bishops to religious affairs administrators.

But the Vatican knows that a relaxation of controls on religious freedoms will not change overnight, and it is prepared to accommodate some of Beijing's requests.

While conservatives in the Vatican remain unconvinced that a resumption of diplomatic ties will benefit mainland Catholics, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and the Vatican's officials handling China affairs believe it would be a step towards religious freedom on the mainland.