Hong Kong Cardinal Rejects China Overtures On Bishops

May 11, 2006 Updated: May 11, 2006

HONG KONG – Hong Kong's most senior Roman Catholic clergyman Cardinal Joseph Zen rejected on Thursday suggestions from China that he persuade the Vatican to accept Beijing's appointment of bishops.

Tension between Beijing and the Vatican flared up this month after China's state-backed Catholic church installed two bishops without papal blessing, and a senior Chinese official in Hong Kong asked Zen on Wednesday to help Beijing with the matter.

“If Beijing's position is to take over the authority for ordaining bishops … this would do no good for the country and would not be accepted by the majority of the clergy and faithful,” the recently promoted Zen said in a statement.

The commissioner of China's Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, Lu Xinhua, had said that Beijing hoped Zen would persuade the Vatican to accept the central government's position.

China broke links with the Vatican in the 1950s after expelling foreign clergy and forcing believers to join the China Patriotic Association, which pledges loyalty to Beijing instead of the Pope, if they wanted to worship openly.

In recent years, Beijing and the Holy See – warily exploring restoration of formal ties – came to an understanding that usually allowed prospective priests and bishops to seek Vatican approval before taking up posts in the state-controlled church.

Now, that arrangement appears to be breaking down, as the state church administration pushes through its own choices.

In 2004, China had 120 bishops, 74 in the state-backed church, according to the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, which monitors the Chinese church.

The Shanghai-born Zen also called for more religious freedom in his statement.

“I love my country as much as my Church, and I do hope they achieve a 'win-win' agreement, so that genuine religious freedom will be secured,” he said.