China's state-controlled Catholic Church has appointed a new bishop who has publicly declared his loyalty to the Vatican. However, as Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, it is yet not clear if the appointment signals an improvement in relations between Beijing and Rome.
News reports from Rome quote Vatican officials as saying the Holy See approved Tuesday's ordination of Joseph Gan Junqiu in China's southern city of Guangzhou.
It is not clear whether there was actual cooperation on the appointment, which was officially made by Beijing alone. However, earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI asked Chinese bishops to publicly declare their fidelity to the pontiff, and Vatican sources have reported that Gan has done so. Three months ago, the Chinese Catholic Church installed another new bishop with the tacit approval of the Vatican.
The appointment of bishops has been a major sore point between the two for some time, and has led to what one church official in Hong Kong has described as "war" over the past year.
Beijing regularly appoints bishops and church officials without approval from the Holy See, while the Roman Catholic Church maintains that only the pope has the authority to appoint Catholic bishops. The two have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1951.
Anthony Lam, a senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, is cautioning against reading too much into Joseph Gan's ordination.
"We are happy to see that everything is going smooth with the government's green light," he said, "with the Holy See approval. But it is not necessarily a sign of cooperation between the two parties."
Lam says that it does not appear that Beijing will be adjusting its religious policies anytime soon.
The agreement over Gan's appointment comes as Pope Benedict is seeking closer ties with the officially atheist government.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that China is eager to improve relations with the Vatican, but added that the Vatican must respect the current policies of the Chinese Catholic Church.
Beijing is wary of allowing its citizens to pledge allegiance to any foreign power. It also says the Vatican must sever its diplomatic ties with the government of Taiwan before relations with the mainland can be normalized.
China's eight to 12 million Catholics are split between the state sanctioned church and an underground church that pledges religious allegiance to the Pope.