May 11, 2006

Hong Kong cardinal rejects China overtures on bishops

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's most senior Roman
Catholic clergyman Cardinal Joseph Zen rejected on Thursday
suggestions from China that he persuade the Vatican to accept
Beijing's appointment of bishops.

Tension between Beijing and the Vatican flared up this
month after China's state-backed Catholic church installed two
bishops without papal blessing, and a senior Chinese official
in Hong Kong asked Zen on Wednesday to help Beijing with the

"If Beijing's position is to take over the authority for
ordaining bishops ... this would do no good for the country and
would not be accepted by the majority of the clergy and
faithful," the recently promoted Zen said in a statement.

The commissioner of China's Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong,
Lu Xinhua, had said that Beijing hoped Zen would persuade the
Vatican to accept the central government's position.

China broke links with the Vatican in the 1950s after
expelling foreign clergy and forcing believers to join the
China Patriotic Association, which pledges loyalty to Beijing
instead of the Pope, if they wanted to worship openly.

In recent years, Beijing and the Holy See -- warily
exploring restoration of formal ties -- came to an
understanding that usually allowed prospective priests and
bishops to seek Vatican approval before taking up posts in the
state-controlled church.

Now, that arrangement appears to be breaking down, as the
state church administration pushes through its own choices.

In 2004, China had 120 bishops, 74 in the state-backed
church, according to the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong,
which monitors the Chinese church.

The Shanghai-born Zen also called for more religious
freedom in his statement.

"I love my country as much as my Church, and I do hope they
achieve a 'win-win' agreement, so that genuine religious
freedom will be secured," he said.