China urges Vatican to be flexible about relations

Message from Beijing’s head of religious affairs comes after Catholic Church says it is hoping for ‘positive signals’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 11:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 11:13pm

The Vatican should take steps to improve relations with China, the Chinese head of religious affairs said on Tuesday, a week after the Catholic Church said it hopes for “positive signals” from Beijing.

Pope Francis is trying to heal a decades-old rift with China, in which Catholics are divided between those loyal to him and those who are members of a state-run official church.

One of the obstacles to improving relations is the question of who should be able to appoint senior clergy.

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China says bishops must be named by the local Chinese Catholic community and refuses to accept the authority of the pope.

Wang Zuoan, the head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, was quoted by Xinhua as saying China “hopes the Vatican takes an even more flexible and pragmatic attitude, and takes actual steps to create beneficial conditions for improving relations”.

China wanted constructive talks to narrow differences, increase consensus and promote improved relations, he told a meeting of Chinese Catholics.

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“The Chinese government’s position on improving Sino-Vatican ties has always been clear and consistent,” Wang said.

The Vatican said last week it was “certain that all Catholics in China are waiting with trepidation for positive signals that would help them have ... hope for a future of unity and harmony”.

Prospects for a deal were set back this month after Lei Shiyin, a government-backed bishop excommunicated by the Vatican, participated in the ordination of new bishops.