Pope's letter may help establish ties, says mainland church official

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am

A mainland official in charge of Catholic Church affairs yesterday said he hoped the letter by Pope Benedict to mainland Catholics could help Beijing and the Vatican normalise relations.

Liu Bainian , deputy chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said since he had not read the Pope's letter, he would not directly comment on it - the first pastoral letter by the pontiff to mainland believers in 49 years - but he believed that the Pope wrote the letter out of his concern for the mainland's Catholics.

'We have always looked forward to the establishment of Sino-Vatican ties but this has to be decided by the two countries. We hope the letter will be some help to the establishment of ties,' Mr Liu said in Beijing yesterday.

Mr Liu said different dioceses could decide if they wanted to announce the Pope's letter in their Sunday Mass. In yesterday's service at the North Cathedral in Beijing, which Mr Liu attended, the priest did not mention the letter.

The outspoken vice-chairman yesterday did not challenge the Pope's authority to appoint bishops, as highlighted in the letter, but he reiterated that Beijing now appointed its own bishops because of the absence of ties with the Vatican.

'There are no diplomatic relations and China has to deal with [this issue of appointment of bishops],' he said.

'As for how to do it in the future, it will be for the two sides [after normalisation of ties] to resolve through dialogue.'

Although the Pope's letter was well advertised in advance, mainland state-controlled media yesterday largely ignored it and instead reported an official statement by the Foreign Ministry which repeated Beijing's position on normalisation of Sino-Vatican ties and urged the Holy See not to create new obstacles.

One Catholic priest in Henan province said he wanted to read the Pope's letter but could not find it on mainland websites.

In the letter, Pope Benedict urged Beijing to engage in a 'respectful and constructive dialogue' to normalise relations. The pontiff also expressed hope that an agreement with Beijing could be made over a mechanism to appoint bishops. 'The Holy See would desire to be completely free to appoint bishops. Considering the recent particular developments of the church in China, I trust that an accord can be reached with the government so as to resolve certain questions regarding the choice of candidates for the episcopate,' the letter reads.


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