c. 2007 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ The recent consecration of bishops in China without the approval of Pope Benedict XVI is prompting the Vatican to reevaluate its push to restore diplomatic relations with Beijing.
Benedict’s top policy makers on China will meet Friday and Saturday (Jan. 19-20), the Vatican confirmed in a statement on Thursday, to take stock of the Holy See’s current policy towards China.
The uncertainty underscores Benedict’s struggle to defend church tradition _ such his authority over bishops _ without alienating China’s communist government. Beijing fiercely rejects Benedict as an authority figure for Chinese Catholics, maintaining a state-run church that closely monitors its clergy.
Since Benedict’s election in 2005, the Vatican has made several overtures to Beijing _ such as offering to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan _ aimed at restoring the formal relations severed more than a half-century ago.
Those efforts, however, have been hamstrung by an intensifying power struggle over control of China’s Catholic clergy. At issue is who ultimately holds the power to appoint new bishops _ Beijing or the pope.
In recent years, a tacit agreement has allowed the pope to approve new bishops that were nominated by the government. On Thursday, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that Benedict had approved the consecration of a Catholic priest selected by Beijing to become bishop of the southern city of Guangzhou.
In November, however, China’s state-sanctioned church consecrated its third bishop in eight months without papal approval, a move that church law considers schismatic. The Vatican has publicly responded with searing condemnations and threats of excommunication, spurring prelates such as Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, who is attending this weekend’s meeting, to demand tougher action against China.
More than 4 million Catholics currently belong to China’s state-sanctioned “open church,” which does not recognize the formal authority of the pope. The Holy See estimates that more than 8 million Chinese Catholics belong to an “underground church,” administered by clergy who are routinely persecuted for their loyalty to Benedict.
The Rev. Giancarlo Politi, a China scholar with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, says the “illicit” consecrations are fueling divisions among Chinese Catholics, who are forced to divide their loyalty between the pope and the government.
The diplomatic standoff has also left an increasing number of Chinese dioceses without bishops. As more and more dioceses come into play, the stakes of the power struggle rise, Politi said.
“This kind of interference is really disastrous,” Politi said.
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