HOUSE churches were allowed under Chinese law provided they did not oppose the socialist system, a senior Chinese religious official has said. The director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, Zhang Shengzuo, reportedly told a delegation from the Hong Kong Catholic Institute for Religion and Society that the Government would not prosecute house churches provided they kept within the law. According to delegation leader Cheung Ka-hing, Mr Zhang said Catholics and other Christians were allowed to practise their religion at home. ''He reiterated that religious freedom is the constitutional right of any Chinese citizen,'' Mr Cheung said yesterday. Mr Zhang had said house churches were not a problem for the Government. Their discussions did not touch on the recent releases of Catholic bishops by Beijing and Sino-Vatican relations. The nine-member delegation also met other religious leaders and academics as well as Mr Chen Guangming, a deputy department head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, during its week-long tour of Beijing and Shanghai. Mr Cheung said mainland religious officials had become more open-minded and were well aware of the difficulties they faced as Chinese society embraced reforms. ''This is the good beginning of exchanges, although we do not agree on all issues,'' he said. He said mainland church officials were generally more concerned about their internal growth and training of young clergymen than social issues, compared with their foreign counterparts. For example, there were not enough qualified young clergymen and the present leadership was mainly supported by bishops and priests who were over 70 years old. Mr Cheung said the problem was compounded by a generation gap. Although social issues were not on the top of their agenda, Mr Cheung said many mainland church leaders believed they could make their views known and influence the Government through political groups such as the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Although less than 0.3 per cent of the Chinese population are regular churchgoers, Mr Cheung said about 1,500 NPC and CPPCC delegates were Christians. Meanwhile, some church leaders had taken the lead to run schools, old age homes and centres for the handicapped as part of their plans to integrate their religion into society. Mainland church leaders were aware of the widespread ''money is everything'' mentality in the country and were keen to play a more active role in educating people.