Pope seeks to improve ties with China

January 22, 2007|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIJING -- An olive branch extended by the Vatican to the Chinese government over the weekend opens the door for rapprochement between church leaders in Rome and their fractured following in the world's most populous country.

But before the decades-long rift can be closed, a number of thorny issues must be resolved, including the Chinese government's control over church activities, China's family planning policies and the Vatican's relationship with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

At the close of a two-day meeting in Rome attended by China's top bishops Saturday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would work on establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Ties between the government and the Vatican were severed in 1951 after the Communist Party took power. Catholics are allowed to worship in government-controlled churches that support the pope as a spiritual leader but reject direct papal control.

In its statement, the Vatican referred to the "troubled history of the Catholic Church in China" and expressed its "profound gratitude" to those in China who have "maintained their loyalty . . . often paying a grave and painful price by doing so."

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