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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Viewpoints: China and the Vatican
Relations between China and the Holy See have worsened after China's Catholic Church installed another bishop without Vatican approval - the second in three days.

The move could jeopardise talks to re-establish diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Vatican. The Chinese Church does not recognise the Vatican's power to appoint bishops.

Beatrice Leung is a Catholic nun and professor of international affairs at the Wenzao Ursuline College of Taiwan.

Beatrice Leung
Beatrice Leung says social unrest in China is behind the appointments
Although there is an appetite in China to reconcile with the Vatican, I expected some difficulties.

These two appointments are the outcome of bumpy negotiations on the path to normalising relations between the two great powers.

But when both sides have different and opposing ideologies, it is not so easy to compromise on practical matters such as who has final say on the appointment of bishops.

In recent years, either the Chinese government or the Vatican has selected three candidates and the other side has chosen one of them. This time, the Vatican has been put in the passive position of validating the one Chinese candidate.

There are clear reasons for this.

One of the biggest growing problems in China is social unrest. The Falun Gong is a relevant example. China sees religion as a binding force in the growth of social movements. It feels a need to be very careful about negotiations with the Vatican.

The Chinese government acts in its own interest and so does the Catholic Church
DM, London/Hong Kong

The practice of religion especially in rural areas is really flowering in China. This is something the authorities feel they must control. China is acting in the interests of social stability.

Its intransigent attitude is simply a way of slowing down the rapid process of change.

I'm not pessimistic. The Chinese government does think the Vatican is an important and influential ally. After the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the moral influence of the Catholic Church in the world was made clear. China will have to make concessions at some point.

But for the moment, social conditions inside China are such that it cannot move too quickly on these negotiations.

I believe religious freedom will come, but it must come slowly in China. It is like a bird in a cage. You cannot free the bird directly into the wilderness. It is better to first give it a bigger cage and then a house to try out its wings.

China is not being totally unreasonable.

Anthony Lam is a Catholic and a senior researcher at Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Study Centre, specialising in relations with the Chinese Catholic Church.

According to canonical law, all bishops should be appointed by the Holy Father. Anyone who violates this canonical law is in danger of being excommunicated automatically.

The Chinese government should know this. Why they still insist on ordaining bishops is a mystery.

It is painful for Catholics all over the world. It is also very harmful to the people being consecrated and to those consecrating the bishops.

There is no formal relationship between the Chinese government and the Holy See. They are still in the process of normalisation. But throughout this process they have built up a mutual understanding and should know not to do anything unacceptable to the other side.

The Holy See cares very much about the views of the Chinese government. The central government is also aware that bishops should get the approval of the Holy Father before consecration.

Catholics in China will not be happy
Anthony Lam
For some years, the Chinese Church and the Holy See have co-operated on the issue of diocesan appointments.

But now, suddenly, somebody has pushed the case to the extreme. To promote consecration without papal approval is to put an obstacle in the path of normalisation.

In the past, we have seen bishops being consecrated without papal approval. Such bishops are not accepted by local Catholics. Catholics in China will not be happy.

My own impression is that people will feel uneasy about a conflict between the Holy Father and the Chinese Church. But this is a complicated and technical issue. It's not easy to understand.

I follow the situation closely as it is part of my job. But on a personal level I feel very disappointed.

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