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China's State Catholic Church Welcomes Vatican Overtures, Repeats Intention to Defy Holy See


China's state-administered Catholic Church has welcomed this weekend's overtures by the Vatican as a step forward in improving relations. However, the church, known as the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, has said it will continue to appoint its own bishops in defiance of the Holy See. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China's state-run Catholic Church Monday hailed calls by the Vatican to improve relations between China and the Holy See.

A high-level Vatican meeting ended Saturday with an announcement of new initiatives to try to jump-start dialogue with China, including the formation of a special committee to promote ties.

The relationship, fractured since 1951, has stumbled in recent years over China's appointment of bishops without Vatican approval, leading to a rebuke from the Holy See.

The public face of China's government-administered Catholic Church is its vice chairman Liu Bainian. He says appointing bishops independently is necessary in order to develop Catholicism. But when asked if a compromise could ever be reached he sounded a note of optimism.

"I think if it (the Vatican) acts according to its public announcement, it said they are willing to continue respectful and constructive dialogue, if this can be done, I believe the bishop issue can be resolved," he said.

Liu says the papal statement Saturday showed the Vatican recognized that China had religious freedom, although Hong Kong's Cardinal Joseph Zen told reporters in Italy the Vatican has not changed its position on the bishop issue.

Alongside the positive response, Liu repeated the government's long-standing position that the Holy See must stay out of Beijing's internal affairs.

"Caesar's law for Caesar, God's law for God. Therefore, the Church must abide by the country's constitution and laws. This is God's commandment. On this point China's Church and every country in the world's Catholic Church are the same," he said.

The Holy See and Beijing broke off relations in 1951 after China's atheist Communist Party came to power and placed restrictions on religious belief.

The Vatican is also the only European power to recognize Taiwan as a country. China considers the self-ruled island a runaway province that must be reunited with the mainland.

Liu says the Vatican's diplomatic relations with Taiwan prevent normalized relations with Beijing.

But the Vatican has indicated it is willing to drop diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of China, as part of a larger reconciliation.

China's Church claims some five million followers who respect the Pope as a spiritual figure but not as leader of the Catholic Church.

Millions more are said to remain loyal to the Pope, some gathering in "underground" churches despite the threat of persecution and arrest.

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