China says Vatican position violates ‘religious freedom’

China, which strictly controls the church, said on Thursday that Vatican opposition to the official Chinese Catholic body’s ordination of a bishop amounted to a violation of freedom of religion.

“Any kind of allegation or intervention constitutes an act of restriction of freedom and intolerance,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters.

Hong was responding to a Vatican statement on Wednesday which said the ordination of a bishop by China’s state-run Catholic church — without the pope’s blessing — was “a serious violation” of religious freedom.

He said the state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association carried out ordinations independently, reflecting China’s “freedom of religious belief” and that Vatican interference violated that freedom.

Beijing-Vatican relations have been tense for decades and the two sides have been working to normalise ties since they were frozen in 1951 when the Holy See officially recognised Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government.

China considers the island part of its territory.

Tensions resurfaced over the ordination last weekend of Father Guo Jincai in the northern city of Chengde.

The Vatican said the ordination “offends the Holy Father”.

The ordination was announced by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which does not acknowledge the authority of Pope Benedict XVI and is fiercely opposed to clergy in China who are loyal to the Vatican.

The Holy See statement confirmed previous reports that suggested a number of bishops loyal to the pope were forced by government officials to attend the ordination.

“Various bishops were subjected to pressures and restrictions on their freedom of movement, with the aim of forcing them to participate,” it said.

The state-run Catholic association on Thursday defended its handling of the ordination, saying the Chinese Church does not carry responsibility for the fallout between China and the Vatican.

“Where China’s Catholics are concerned, if there are no bishops, the church will have no way of developing and the gospel no way of being spread,” Liu Bainian, vice president of the association, said.

Official tallies put the number of Catholics in China at 5,7 million. They include members of an official Church with links to the state and an unofficial “clandestine” Church that says it derives its legitimacy from the pope.

Human rights groups say that those who remain loyal to the Vatican often suffer persecution, with detentions of bishops common.

Liu said Catholicism was suffering in Western nations while in China it was developing well.

“Not only do they (the Vatican) not support us, but they also have to attack us … I just don’t understand.”

The Vatican says it will abandon ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing if China guarantees religious freedom and allows the pope to name Chinese bishops.

Beijing has imposed two conditions — the Vatican’s recognition of the one-China policy that precludes independence for Taiwan and its acceptance that religious affairs are an internal Chinese matter. — Sapa-AFP

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