April 3, 2006

China, Vatican may have ties by Olympics: cardinal

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China and the Vatican could
re-establish diplomatic relations by the 2008 Beijing Olympics,
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the most senior Roman Catholic clergyman
in the country, said on Monday.

Ties were cut in 1951 and the Vatican has formal relations
with Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers a
breakaway province.

But momentum has been building in recent years for the
Vatican to make the switch from Taiwan to China. As a
precondition, Beijing insists that the Holy See sever
diplomatic links with Taiwan and refrain from meddling in
China's internal affairs.

China and the Vatican could have diplomatic relations "as
early as the Olympic Games," Zen said told Reuters. "I think
it's a very reasonable target. The process may be long and it
may be short. It depends on how they (China's leaders) open
their way of seeing things."

Zen, who does not play a formal role in the talks with
Beijing but has taken an active interest in Sino-Vatican
affairs, has said the Vatican was prepared to make such a move.

A sticking point has been that Beijing refuses to allow the
Vatican to name Chinese bishops unilaterally, which is the
usual procedure. Zen said the Pope could give some ground on
the issue.

"The Pope can make concessions without giving the whole
authority to them (the Chinese authorities). Surely he can
listen to their opinion," he said.

"Maybe ... the Holy Father presents a list of names to them
and they may veto some of those names, or give their

Zen, formerly a Hong Kong bishop who criticized the lack of
religious freedom in China, said at the time of his elevation
to cardinal he hoped it would help ease ties between the
Vatican and Beijing. Hong Kong has had wide-ranging autonomy
since returning from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

China refuses to allow Catholics to recognize the authority
of the Pope, saying this would interfere in its internal

The Vatican estimates it has about 8 million followers in
China who worship at "underground" churches, while the official
church has 5 million followers.