China–Holy See relations

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This article is about the relations with the People's Republic of China. For the relations with the Republic of China, before and after the communist takeover of China in 1949, see Holy See–Taiwan relations.
People's Republic of China-Vatican relations
Map indicating locations of China and Vatican City


Vatican City

There have been no official People's Republic of China – Holy See relations since 1951.

The Beijing government broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951 after a complicated incident. Throughout 1950 and 1951, China had been putting pressure on the Vatican by threatening a breakaway of "independent Catholics", but many priests opposed the movement, and Zhou Enlai sought a middle ground.[1] A deadly controversy was then manufactured: a priest working at the Holy See internunciature (legation) had thrown out an old 1930s-era mortar in a trash pile out of his home. A businessman named Antonio Riva discovered the mortar and took a non-functioning piece of it back to his house to display as an antique. When Communist officials saw Riva's curio in his home, they arrested him for conspiracy to assassinate Mao Zedong, which Riva denied. Riva was executed and the Holy See's diplomatic mission was banished from the country for "espionage".[2] Tarcisio Martina, the regional apostolic prefect, was sentenced to life in prison[3] and died in 1961, while four other "conspirators" were given shorter sentences.[4]

The Beijing government has set two conditions for reestablishing the relations: that the Holy See "not interfere in religious matters in China" and that, in line with Beijing's One-China policy, it break the ties with the Taipei government that it established after the expulsion of Archbishop Riberi, ties that, since the United Nations' recognition of the Beijing government as the government of China, it now maintains only at the level of chargé d'affaires.[5] The Holy See has indicated that it would have no difficulty about the second condition, but requires discussion about the concrete meaning of the first.[6] The main point of contention concerns the appointing of Catholic bishops in mainland China, who are now named by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, at some periods in agreement with the Holy See, at other times in direct opposition to its declared wishes. The PRC government's position is that bishops should be appointed by itself; the Holy See's position is that bishops can only be appointed by the Pope,[7] while envisaging in some cases a form of consultation with the civil authorities.[8]

The Holy See made efforts in 2007 to create formal ties with the PRC.[9] High-ranking bishops in the Roman Catholic Church have implied that such a diplomatic move was possible,[10] predicated on the PRC granting more freedom of religion[11] and interfering less in the hierarchy of the church in mainland China.[12]

In September 2007, the appointment of Father Joseph Li Shan by the PRC authorities was said to be "tacitly approved" by the Vatican.[13] In May 2008, the China Philharmonic Orchestra from mainland China performed a concert for the Pope inside the Vatican, prompting analysts to speak of a "growing rapprochement" between the two countries.[14]

The relationship between the Catholic Church and the PRC remains tense, with vocal and influential critics inside the church such as Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop emeritus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.

Press Release[edit]

On Thursday, April 26, 2012, the Holy See Press Office released a statement on the current state of affairs between China and the Vatican. What follows are the first few paragraphs of that statement in its English translation, and a link to it,:

"The Commission which Pope Benedict XVI established in 2007 to study questions of major importance regarding the life of the Catholic Church in China met in the Vatican for the fifth time from 23 to 25 April.

With deep spiritual closeness to all brothers and sisters in the faith living in China, the Commission recognized the gifts of fidelity and dedication which the Lord has given to his Church throughout the past year.

The participants examined the theme of the formation of the lay faithful, in view also of the "Year of Faith" which the Holy Father has announced will be held from 11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013. The words of the Gospel, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man" (Lk 2:52), set out the task to which the Catholic lay faithful in China are called.

In the first place, they must enter ever more deeply into the life of the Church, nourished by doctrine, conscious of their being part of the Catholic Church, and consistent with the requirements of life in Christ, which necessitates hearing the word of God with faith. From this perspective, a profound knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be a particularly important aid for them.

In the second place, lay Catholics are called to take part in civic life and in the world of work, offering their own contribution with full responsibility: by loving life and respecting it from conception until natural death; by loving the family, promoting values which are also proper to traditional Chinese culture; by loving their country as honest citizens concerned for the common good. As an ancient Chinese sage put it, "the way of great learning consists in illustrating noble virtues, in renewing and staying close to people, and in reaching the supreme good."

Thirdly, the lay faithful in China must grow in grace before God and men, by nourishing and perfecting their own spiritual life as active members of the parish community and by involving themselves in the apostolate, also with the help of associations and Church movements which foster their ongoing formation.

In this regard, the Commission noted with joy that the proclamation of the Gospel by Catholic communities, which are sometimes poor and without material resources, encourages many adults to request baptism every year. It was thus emphasized that the Dioceses in China should promote a serious catechumenate, adopt the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and care for their formation after Baptism as well." ..."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Time Magazine. Religion: Catholics in China
  2. ^ Time Magazine. Religion: Prayer for China
  3. ^ Catholic Herald. Prelate is imprisoned for life
  4. ^ Giuliano Bertuccioli. "Informatori, avventurieri, spioni, agenti più o meno autentici in duemila anni di storia delle relazioni italo-cinesi". Mondo Cinese 101 (1999)
  5. ^ Asia News, 4 February 2005
  6. ^ Religious freedom the key to Beijing-Holy See relations
  7. ^ "China-Vatican relations", James Reynolds, BBC, May 9, 2008
  8. ^ The 1966 Agreement with Argentina provides an example of how national governments are, by exception, sometimes consulted prior to the appointment of bishops.
  9. ^ "Pope offers olive branch to China". BBC News Online. 2007-01-20. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  10. ^ "HK bishop hints at Vatican switch". BBC News Online. 2005-04-05. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  11. ^ "China welcomes Vatican initiative". BBC News Online. 2005-04-05. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  12. ^ "China ordains new Catholic bishop". BBC News Online. 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  13. ^ "China installs Pope-backed bishop", BBC, September 21, 2007
  14. ^ "Chinese orchestra plays for Pope", David Willey, BBC, May 7, 2008