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China's tough religious policy 'obstacle' to Vatican deal

Taiwan academic warns that resumed negotiations could break down over Beijing's tightened grip on religion

ucanews.com reporters, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporters, Hong Kong

Updated: June 26, 2018 04:07 AM GMT
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China's tough religious policy 'obstacle' to Vatican deal

Pope Francis told Reuters that he is optimistic that the Vatican and China can reach a deal on the appointment of bishops. (Photo by AFP)

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A Taiwan academic believes China's tough religious policy could be a sticking point in reaching a deal with the Vatican on the appointment of bishops.

Sister Beatrice Leung Kit-fun, a research professor at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, told ucanews.com that it was known that the Holy See had mentioned Beijing's tightened religious policy in the recently resumed negotiations. "This is an obstacle to reaching an agreement between the two sides," she said.

In February, Chinese authorities implemented newly revised regulations for religious affairs to strengthen the monitoring of religious activities, including imposing bans on minors from entering churches and heavy penalties for unauthorized activities and venues.

Sister Leung said mutual understanding and concessions were vital to the talks but even if an agreement was signed, the conditions would be difficult to implement.

She recalled that as early as 2008 the Holy See had sent officials to Taiwan to discuss non-diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Taiwan.

Sister Leung said the Vatican and Taiwan had been getting closer in the last five years, especially under Msgr. Paul Russell, former head of the Vatican nunciature in Taiwan. A treaty on post-secondary education was signed for mutual recognition of academic credentials, while art exhibitions were held to foster better relations.

Talks between the Vatican and China resumed in the second week of June, the first since last December, according to Reuters.

Pope Francis told the news agency: "I think the Chinese people merit the Nobel Prize for patience. They know how to wait. Time is theirs and they have centuries of culture ... They are a wise people, very wise. I have great respect for China."

The pope was asked to respond to the concerns of Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong.

The pope said he had previously received Cardinal Zen and he was a good man, but he thought he was a bit scared as he had taught theology at the seminary of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Pope Francis spoke positively about the prospects for a deal. "Dialogue is a risk, but I prefer risk rather than the certain defeat that comes with not holding dialogue," he said.

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