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Vatican to Consider Severing Diplomatic Ties with Taiwan

Following the death of Pope John Paul II, Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen has said the Vatican may consider severing diplomatic ties with Taipei and recognizing Beijing.

For years, church officials have said the Holy See might switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing if the Communist authorities would allow the Vatican to appoint bishops in China, as it does in other countries.

Hong Kong's Catholic bishop, Joseph Zen, alluded to that position earlier this week, as the world focused on possible changes at the Vatican following the death of Pope John Paul II.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang suggested Beijing is not ready to consider easing its controls over Chinese Catholics. Mr. Qin says religion in China must be independent of foreign influences or forces.

China's communist leadership and the Vatican broke relations in the 1950's. While China now allows limited religious worship, it remains one of the few nations in the world that does not allow the Pope to appoint bishops.

China restricts Catholic worship to state-sanctioned churches where the bishops are appointed by the Communist leadership, and bars allegiance to the Holy See - a basic tenet of Catholic faith. Many Chinese Catholics persist in remaining loyal to Rome by attending so-called underground churches that are subject to frequent crackdowns by security forces.

For years, Chinese and Vatican officials have quietly held discussions on improving relations.

Beijing wants the Church to sever its ties to Taiwan, which China regards as a part of its territory. It also demands non-interference in its internal affairs - a reference to, among other things, the Church's mandate that all bishops must be appointed by the Holy See.

Following John Paul's passing on Saturday, Chinese officials expressed hope that the new Pope might be willing to compromise on the appointing of bishops. But Vatican analysts say the issue is so central to Catholic doctrine that no change is likely.