Beijing, Holy See have held talks in recent weeks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2006, 12:00am

Dialogue has been constructive but conflicts still unsettled: official

Beijing and Holy See officials have met in recent weeks in Rome to discuss the future of Sino-Vatican relations, the South China Morning Post has learned.

A top Vatican official said the negotiations, which came after Beijing unilaterally ordained two mainland bishops without Vatican approval, were a 'constructive dialogue' but differences had yet to be settled.

'As the song goes, 'It's a long way to Tipperary'. There is a long way, and it is not immediate. We need time,' the official said late yesterday.

While the identities of the Chinese officials were unknown, they were received in Rome at the level of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

But the Vatican source denied reports that the Holy See had sent a delegation to Beijing, and said it had not authorised anyone to visit Beijing on the Vatican's behalf.

Earlier yesterday, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, leader of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, said talks between the Holy See and Beijing had taken place in the capital this month.

But when asked to clarify last night whether the talks had been held in Beijing or Rome, Cardinal Zen said he might have been misinformed on the exact location, or that the plans might have been changed at the last minute.

Cardinal Zen said earlier yesterday he had been told by Vatican officials in Rome last month that the talks would continue.

'I was told that it will continue, and the negotiations will be conducted in Beijing. I was told that everyone should relax, be glad and pray because we are now entering detailed discussion,' he said.

'I can tell you that Beijing invited the Holy See to send someone to hold talks in Beijing,' and the talks had taken place this month.

He said the negotiations were 'official' and more high-level than the unofficial contacts held previously. Cardinal Zen said he was making this known to 'ease concerns' of people who feared that the ordination of bishops by the mainland had derailed the talks.

'Despite the illicit ordinations, such actions have not damaged the negotiations,' he said.

Despite the confusion over the talks, Cardinal Zen said last night: 'What is important is to know that the talks are continuing. This may not be a breakthrough, but at least Beijing's move has not damaged the negotiations.'

He also denied telling Britain's The Sunday Times last week that the Vatican had put pressure on Beijing in negotiations over the welfare of seven underground bishops on the mainland.

The ordination of two bishops by mainland religious authorities last month dented bilateral relations, with the Holy See criticising Beijing in a harsh statement.

But both sides said they were willing to continue negotiations, with the Vatican stating its intention to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in return for the right to appoint bishops.