China silent on possible Vatican delegation to Beijing
‘Effective contacts’ maintained throughout talks on bishop appointments
China’s foreign ministry has refused to elaborate on a newspaper report that the Vatican could send a delegation to Beijing before the end of this month to clinch a deal on the appointment of bishops.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had no information to provide on any visit by a Vatican delegation.
“China and the Vatican have all along been maintaining effective contacts,” he told a daily news briefing, without elaborating.
The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, said there were no “disputes on issues of principle” between the two and an agreement could be reached.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the tabloid said the Vatican may soon send a delegation to China before both sides reach the agreement.
It added that a Vatican source last week also confirmed that a prominent figure from the Holy See would probably come to China in late September, without further elaborating.
China and the Vatican are in advanced talks to resolve a dispute over the appointment of bishops, one of the biggest obstacles to the resumption of diplomatic ties cut almost 70 years ago.
An estimated 12 million Catholics in China are split between an underground church that swears loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
China keeps a tight grip on religious groups, despite the government professing to guarantee freedom of belief.
Last month, Beijing’s most senior official for religion wrote that religious matters in China cannot be controlled by foreigners.
Another issue to be resolved is self-ruled Taiwan, with which the Vatican maintains formal diplomatic ties.
While restoring diplomatic ties was not part of the talks, full relations would give the church a legal framework to look after all China’s Catholics and focus on the community’s growth in a country where Protestant churches are already growing fast.