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Catholic watchdog main obstacle to Sino-Vatican ties: Cardinal Zen.

HONG KONG, April 3 Kyodo

A Chinese government-sanctioned Catholic watchdog must be reformed or withdrawn as a precondition for Sino-Vatican ties to be restored, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen said Monday.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association was set up in 1957 after the atheist Communist Party cut ties with Vatican in 1951.

It does not recognize the authority of the pope and appoints China's own bishops. Catholics in China can only go to state-sanctioned churches led by state-appointed priests, while followers staunchly loyal to the Vatican attend underground churches.

Zen, a vocal critic of Beijing at times who was elevated to cardinal by the Vatican last month, is optimistic about the possibility of a restoration of ties between the two sides by 2008, or even sooner. But he said exactly when is pending on how well Chinese leaders endorse religious freedom and on the role the association plays in the future.

''Issues about the association are complicated,'' Zen told Kyodo News in an interview. ''Although it claims to be a religious organization, it is indeed a government tool being used to control (Catholic churches in China). Sometimes it overrides the bishops, which is illicit and unacceptable to the Roman Catholic Church.

''The association needs to be reformed if not withdrawn. It is insignificant and is despised by Catholics in China. It will be a good thing if we can withdraw it,'' Zen said.

He said the two requirements laid down by China -- cutting ties with Taiwan and Beijing's participation in bishops' appointments -- can be reached, as the Holy See is ready to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan once true religious freedom exists in China, and the Chinese government can participate in appointing bishops in China.

''It is important to lead and take care of Catholics in China. It is a pity that we have to cut away Taiwan, but it is something that must be done. Taiwanese Catholics have heard of Vatican's will, any negative impact should have been shown,'' he said.

Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the association, has said Zen's promotion to cardinal is a hostile act against China and Zen is a threat to the Beijing government. Liu also said being patriotic is most important for Catholics in China.

''Liu should not fight for special privilege that other countries were granted in the past, because that would not benefit the normalization process,'' Zen said, without elaborating on the privileges. ''As a Catholic, Liu should trust the pope more and accept his plans.''

Zen reiterated his negative comment on Communism but said it is better to improve the Chinese Communist regime than to subvert it.

''The Communist system is faulty for banning democracy, but since the (Communist) Chinese government has been recognized by the world for decades, the Roman Catholic Church also recognizes its sovereignty. Building ties is just a means, not an end,'' he said.

''Whether China aims at using its relationship with the Vatican to isolate Taiwan is not the church's jurisdiction. We just want Catholics in China to enjoy religious freedom,'' Zen said.

Lai Pan-chiu, of Hong Kong Chinese University's cultural and religious studies department, said main problems have been cleared years ago. The remaining issue, which is also the most crucial issue, is the autonomy of the Catholic Church in China.

''The Vatican wants not only spiritual freedom, but institutional autonomy in China as well,'' Lai said. ''It certainly does not want any supervisory institution like the Catholic Patriotic Association running its churches,'' he said.

The religious freedom that the Vatican wants for China is similar to what is enjoyed by Catholics in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Europe and the United States, where Catholics can freely go to churches and participate in religious activities without the government looking over their shoulders, Zen said.

Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, was quoted in the state-run China Daily on Monday as saying, ''Appointing and consecrating our own what we must stick to.''

But Zen said he knew that Chinese officials were recently sent to different countries, such as Germany, to inquire with churches there on their own bishop appointment arrangements.

For Catholics who were persecuted in China for being loyal to the Vatican and for Taiwan Catholics who might feel abandoned should the Vatican sever diplomatic ties, Zen said he is confident they will understand.

Zen said he will meet the pope soon after Easter to learn from him the Vatican's approach on reconciliation.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Apr 3, 2006
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