October 25, 2005

Vatican lists conditions for ties with China

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict's top diplomat said on
Tuesday the Holy See was always ready to end relations with
Taiwan and return its embassy to Beijing but that China must
respect religious freedom and treat the Vatican fairly.

"We have said many times that it (Taiwan) is not an
obstacle," said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of
State, adding the Vatican was ready to start dialogue at any

"I have said many times that if we had contacts with
Beijing, our charge d'affaires who is in Taiwan would go to
Beijing, not tomorrow morning, but tonight," he told reporters
on the sidelines of a university event.

China has had no diplomatic ties with the Vatican since
1951, two years after the Communist takeover.

Beijing has insisted that diplomatic ties cannot be resumed
unless Rome first severs links with Taiwan, which Beijing
considers a renegade province.

But Sodano said the Vatican wants freedom for Catholics in
China and to be allowed to re-open its embassy in Beijing with
no conditions attached.

"The Holy See cannot be treated worse than other states.
When other states ended their relations with Taiwan they moved
immediately to Beijing. Why can't the Holy See, if it ends its
contacts with Taiwan, go immediately to Beijing?" Sodano said.

This was an apparent reference to China's accusations that
the Vatican wants to interfere in its internal affairs.

China refuses to allow the Vatican to appoint bishops and
it refuses to allow Catholics to recognize the authority of the

Instead, Chinese Catholics must belong to a state-backed
church known as the Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Vatican estimates it has about 8 million followers in
China who worship in the "underground Church," compared with
some 5 million who follow the state-backed association.


"The Holy See has always said we are ready for dialogue,
ready for contacts, ready to explain its traditions but we have
to always insist that the Church is one, in the entire world,
in all cultures," he said.

"Governments do not have the right to tell men and women
how they have to live their faith. This is the right of
religious freedom for all people ..." he said.

Senegal switched relations from Taiwan to China earlier on
Tuesday, meaning the Vatican is one of just 25 states, most
Third World countries in Africa, Latin America and the South
Pacific, that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

China and Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China,
have been political rivals since the end of the Chinese civil
war in 1949. Each accuses the other of using "dollar
diplomacy," or soft loans and other economic incentives, to win

China's communist government refused to allow four bishops
from China to attend a synod at the Vatican that ended last

For three weeks four empty seats were kept in the hall
where the prelates met to remind the more than 250 other
bishops of their absence.

In his homily closing the synod, Pope Benedict said he was
sure that the suffering of the Chinese Church "will not remain