China–Holy See relations
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. 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". Tarcisio Martina, the regional apostolic prefect, was sentenced to life in prison and died in 1961, while four other "conspirators" were given shorter sentences.
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. 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. The main point of contention concerns the appointing of Catholic bishops in mainland China, who are now named by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), 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, while envisaging in some cases a form of consultation with the civil authorities.
The Holy See made efforts in 2007 to create formal ties with the PRC. High-ranking bishops in the Roman Catholic Church implied that such a diplomatic move was possible, predicated on the PRC granting more freedom of religion and interfering less in the hierarchy of the church in mainland China.
In September 2007, the appointment of Father Joseph Li Shan by the PRC authorities was said to be "tacitly approved" by the Vatican. 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. In April 8, 2011 the Financial Times reported that Baron Von Pfetten organised the first major breakthrough discussion at leadership level during a three days closed door seminar in his French château where a senior Chinese visiting delegation met with Monseigneur Balestrero the then Holy Sea Undersecretary for Relations with States. Since Pope Francis' inauguration in March 2013 he has publicly expressed his wish to visit China and improve the Sino-Holy See relationship in a media interview. It was also reported that on a Papal visit to South Korea in August 2014 China opened up its airspace to the Pope's plane, and while crossing the Chinese airspace the Pope sent a telegram expressing his "best wishes" to the Chinese people.
However, in some areas 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.
In the late 1990s, officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing raised the possibility that it might one day be used as the Holy See's embassy as a reason against demolishing an abandoned architecturally distinctive mansion belonging to the archdiocese (the reputedly haunted house at Chaonei No. 81).
In January 2018, the Church was close to negotiating a deal with China that allows China to have more control over the underground churches and allows the Vatican to have more control over the appointment of bishops. While this did not amount to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties, this was seen as a huge step towards formal recognition. However, Cardinal Zen regarded the warming of diplomatic relationships as selling out the Catholic Church in China, as the process involves the resignation of several bishops of the underground church. A vigil was held by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese in response from 12 February to 13 February in St Bonaventure Church.
- Chinese Catholic Bishops Conference
- Foreign relations of the Holy See
- Foreign relations of the People's Republic of China
- Holy See–Republic of China relations
- List of Apostolic Nuncios to China
- Roman Catholicism in China
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