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Beijing Will Stop Illicit Ordinations

ICC Note:

The Chinese government appears to be backing down on its determination to appoint Catholic bishops without the approval of the Vatican , generating hope that positive changes are underway in the relationship between the official and unofficial church.

AsiaNews (07/21/06) – The Chinese government has seemingly decided to stop the illicit ordination of bishops although Sino-Vatican talks held in Beijing from 25 June to 2 July did not yield any concrete results. This was declared yesterday by the auxiliary bishop of Hong, Mgr John Tong Hon, during his intervention at an ecumenical seminar promoted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Uiwang, 25 kilometers south of Seoul .

About the nomination of Chinese bishops, Mgr Tong said the Chinese government will “stop illicit ordinations”, adding that “positive changes are already evident in relations between the official and unofficial Church in China ”.

He said: “The Chinese government wants to dialogue with the Holy See, so it will have no more illegitimate ordinations.” The bishop gave positive feedback about the contribution of the international media in the matter: “This kind of information can exert positive pressure on the communist government. The media can play an important role.”

Mgr Tong also talked about themes tackled in a meeting held between Chinese and Vatican delegations nearly a month ago. “We should not expect too much from this dialogue. I think the Chinese government is not so sincere and it will engage in only superficial dialogue. It knows the situation will change in the future but it does not want this kind of change to happen so quickly.”

The delegation of the Holy See was composed of Mgr Claudio Celli and Mgr Gianfranco Rota Graziosi of the Secretariat of State. Although Mgr Celli is not part of the Secretariat of State, he is an expert on ties between Rome and Beijing and a veteran on visits and contacts with the Chinese world.

The meeting of the Holy See delegation with Chinese government representatives came at a time of strong tension caused by a series of illicit ordinations of bishops, which the Vatican described as a “serious attack on religious freedom”.

But even at the height of the crisis, the Chinese government stressed its “sincere openness” to dialogue with the Vatican , giving to understand that the obstacles to dialogue – and the illicit ordinations themselves – were down to intermediate government cadres, that is, the Patriotic Association and the State Administration of Religious Affairs.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop of Hong Kong , also had something to say about the “secret” meetings. He told the South China Morning Post: “Both sides had been unusually secretive but the trip itself represented a step forward.” He continued: “The visit is a good thing and it shows the goodwill expressed by both sides.” The cardinal said it was “important” to let people know that despite the crisis, bilateral relations were continuing.

During the week long visit, the Vatican delegates met other representatives of the Chinese government, including the director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen, and they visited several sites of cultural interest.