ROME – China has sent a message to whoever would be the new pope, urging him stop the Vatican from interfering in China’s domestic affairs.
“China is willing to develop relations with the Vatican if the Vatican severs its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and refrains from interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Mr Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in Beijing on Feb 18, according to a report in The People’s Daily online.
The paper is an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
AFP news agency reported that Mr Hong did so when asked for China’s reaction to Pope Benedict’s shock decision to step down on Feb 28.
“China hopes the Vatican will show flexibility and sincerity in creating conditions for the improvement of China-Vatican ties under the new pope,” Mr Hong stated.
He urged the Vatican “to recognise the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government representing China, as well as recognise that Taiwan is part of China,” the paper reported.
“The Vatican must also refrain from interfering in China’s internal affairs, particularly interference in the name of religion,” Mr Hong said.
This is a reference to the Holy See’s insistence that the pope must have the final word in the appointment of Catholic bishops in China, something Beijing does not accept.
Mr Hong’s statement was reported in the People’s Daily on Feb 18 under the headline, One China Principle, Non-interference Requisites for China-Vatican Ties.
Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong however dismissed China’s statement.
“At this moment the Holy See should ignore that old song,” the cardinal told Vatican Insider, speaking by phone from Hong Kong.
“They have unilaterally interrupted the dialogue. We never refused the dialogue. So let them ask for dialogue,” he said.
China broke diplomatic relations with the Holy See and expelled the papal representative in 1951, soon after the Communists came to power.
“They need to show some good will. They should be humble and show they want to change. They have to show that sincerely now, instead of telling everyone else how to behave,” said Cardinal Zen.
“We hope the new leaders take some time to look into what their people down there are doing about religion, the way they are enslaving our bishops, and doing things that are damaging our nation.”
Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See’s Press Office told Vatican Insider that the Vatican had no comment. - By Gerard O’Connell, VATICAN INSIDER