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China says it hopes for 'flexible' pope

Ministry wants end to Vatican-Taiwan relations

AFP, Beijing

AFP, Beijing

Published: March 14, 2013 09:39 AM GMT

Updated: March 14, 2013 11:06 PM GMT

China says it hopes for 'flexible' pope
Catholics in Beijing leave Mass at East Cathedral last month (AFP photo/Mark Ralston)

China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it hoped newly elected Pope Francis would take a "practical and flexible" attitude.

"We hope that under the leadership of the new pope the Vatican will adopt a practical and flexible attitude and create conditions for the improvement of China-Vatican relations," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

Despite its long, strained ties with the Vatican in a dispute about authority over Catholics in the country, Beijing joined in congratulating Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He was chosen as pope a day before China's Communist party chief Xi Jinping was named national president.

But Hua reiterated the political obstacles that have come between China's ruling party and the Catholic Church.

The two bodies, which both oversee more than a billion people and assert tight organizational control, have clashed over the authority to name bishops and the Vatican's ties with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of China.

China had "two basic principles in dealing with relations with the Vatican", Hua said at a regular briefing.

"It should sever its so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognize the Chinese government as the sole legal representative of all of China.

"The Vatican should not interfere in China's internal affairs, including under the pretext of religion."

Experts say China has as many as 12 million Catholics, with about half belonging to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the rest in "underground" churches, though many operate openly depending on the stance of local officials.

The CCPA did not respond to requests for comment on the new pope.

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During his tenure, the previous pope, now Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, sought a measure of accommodation, assuring Beijing that the Vatican had no intention of undermining its rule.

But he drew a line at any governmental interference in the Vatican's right to manage ecclesiastical affairs and insisted that all lay Catholics were members of a single global Church –a challenge to Beijing's self-declared powers.

The Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist and heavily persecuted religious believers in its early decades in power.

It doggedly guards its dominance of public life and remains deeply suspicious of potential foreign political influence. AFP

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