Action Alert!

Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican ready to quit Taiwan for ties with Beijing October 26, 2005

Cardinal Angelo Sodano has set forth the Vatican's conditions for opening diplomatic relations with China.

The Secretary of State indicated that the Holy See is prepared to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but will not compromise on religious freedom for Catholics in mainland China.

"If we could have ties with Beijing, then-- not tomorrow but tonight-- the nuncio-- or rather the chargé d'affaires who is now in Taiwan would head for Beijing," Cardinal Sodano told reporters during an impromptu press conference held during an reception at the Gregorian University.

Cardinal Sodano observed that the apostolic nuncio in China was based in Beijing before being driven out after the Communist revolution in China. "If possible, we hope to return to the original nunciature in Beijing," he said.

The Chinese government has regularly demanded that the Vatican break off ties with Taiwan before formal diplomatic relations between Rome and Beijing can be established. Vatican officials have, just as consistently, maintained that Taiwan would not be a stumbling block. As early as 1999, Cardinal Sodano had stated that the Holy See saw the diplomatic post in Taiwan as a temporary accommodation, which could be abandoned when ties with Beijing were restored.

(In 1949, when the apostolic nuncio was forced to leave Beijing, the Vatican representative was stationed first in Nanking, then in Hong Kong, and finally in Taipei. But the current papal legate in Taiwan is identified only as a chargé d'affaires rather than an ambassador. On the other hand, Taiwan's representative at the Vatican is identified as an ambassador.)

However, the Vatican has also insisted that Beijing must respect the religious freedom of the Church in China. The Communist government has been reluctant to accept ties between Chinese Catholic bishops and the Holy See. But in recent months there has been growing evidence that the bishops of the "official" Church, theoretically controlled by the Catholic Patriotic Association, have sought the approval of the Pope.

Cardinal Sodano acknowledged that there have been "conversations" between Vatican officials and Chinese government representatives. He declined to be specific about these informal contacts, saying only that some Church leaders have visited China, while "there are representatives of the Chinese government present in the world, as ambassadors, as men involved in culture and business."

"The Holy See has always said that it is ready for dialogue," the cardinal said. He quickly added: "But we must always insist on the understanding that the Church is undivided throughout the entire world, in all cultures and all countries, and that civil governments do not have the right to tell men and women how to live their faith."

Cardinal Sodano went on to observe that "the right of every man to religious freedom is written in the universal declaration of human rights, and written in the very history of the Chinese people."

The Vatican Secretary of State said that Church leaders had been sorely disappointed that China did not allow permission for four Chinese bishops to travel to Rome to participate in the recent Synod of Bishops, after their appointment to the Synod by Pope Benedict XVI. But he voiced the hope that "these difficulties will eventually be overcome."