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Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican delegation in Beijing for talks June 27, 2006

A Vatican delegation is in Beijing for talks with the Chinese government, the AsiaNews service reports.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office, would neither confirm nor deny the report. "I have no comments to make" on the report on news that has appeared in various organs of the press concerning contacts between a Holy See delegation and the Chinese authorities," he said on June 28.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of AsiaNews, said an exclusive report that a delegation led by Archbishop Claudio Celli had been in China since Sunday, June 25. Father Cervellera, who once served as a missionary in China, said that the presence of the Vatican delegation had been confirmed by several sources there.

Relations between Rome and Beijing have been tense in recent weeks, after the government-approved "official" Catholic Church ordained bishops without permission from the Holy See, breaking a tacit agreement that new bishops would receive approval from Rome. The Vatican said that the illicit ordinations were "an attack against religious freedom," charging that Chinese officials had put heavy pressure on Catholic clerics to accept the nominations and attend the bishops' installation ceremonies.

AsiaNews has reported that the unauthorized ordinations were arranged by the Catholic Patriotic Association, whose officials fear a loss of influence if the Vatican established diplomatic ties with the Chinese government. The agency believes that the Patriotic Association is at odds with top government leaders, who have said that they remain open to the prospect of re-opening ties with Rome. Nevertheless, government officials have consistently said that China will not open diplomatic relations unless the Vatican removes its nunciature from Taiwan and agrees not to "interfere" in China's internal affairs. (Beijing contends that the appointment of Catholic bishops is an internal matter for Chinese officials to settle.)

The goal of this week's visit by the Vatican delegation is not clear. Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong told AsiaNews that the visit is "a friendly gesture," but added that "I do not expect the talks will progress very quickly."

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