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Chinese Catholics criticise Vatican

By Francesco Sisci, The Straits Times, 6 October 2000

Local Catholics, owing no allegiance to Rome, want the Pope to repent for his canonisation of missionaries Beijing says helped persecute Chinese

BEIJING -- Official Chinese Catholics in several provinces and municipalities have criticised the Vatican over the canonisation of missionaries in the latest development on the current religious row.

Chinese Catholics also asked the Pope to repent for his wrongdoing and not to set up barriers to China-Vatican relations, according to state media yesterday.

China severed ties with the Vatican in 1951 and set up its own China Patriotic Catholic Association to oversee churches and ordain bishops without Rome's approval. It has protested against the canonisation of people it accuses of helping to persecute Chinese.

The official Xinhua news agency said the canonisation, which took place on China's National Day on Sunday, was actually manipulated by the so-called Taiwan Catholic Bishops College.

Chinese experts blamed the Vatican for going ahead with canonising 120 martyrs who died in China, without consulting Beijing. The choice of date and candidates was made in Rome after listening only to Taiwanese Catholics, they said.

The Holy See intended to split China... by catering to the Taiwan authorities, said Xinhua.

China was very close to re-establishing relations with the Vatican before the canonisation row erupted. The Holy See is now the most important of the 30 governments still recognising Taiwan and normalisation of ties would boost China's offensive to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.

The Chinese authorities tried in vain to convince Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who visited China last month, to ask the Vatican to postpone the canonisation.

A Communist Party source said: The party feels that, especially after this canonisation, it can't trust and deal with the Vatican as it does with any other government.

Other nations have concrete economic interests to defend and this can be the basis for an exchange, which is mutually beneficial. However, the Holy See has no national interests but to make converts. Therefore, it is not clear to Beijing how to frame the relationship.

Party sources said the canonisation incident has also led to China's office of religious affairs re-enforcing a ban on Chinese associations linking with foreign religious organisations.

The move was clearly aimed at Christians or Buddhists whose activities have in recent years become more connected with groups abroad, they said.

The office of religious affairs wants to keep Tibetan Buddhists in China separate from their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile since 1959.

Other Chinese sources said in the past months, the authorities had intended to grant more freedom to traditional religions. The move was planned to contrast its position on spiritual groups like the Falungong.