China and the Vatican

26 Feb

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation this month has resonated throughout the globe and the news has reverberated deeply within China and its government.

Relations between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government soured in 1951, when the church and the government ceased communicating due to the Vatican’s recognition of the Taipei national government, considered by the Chinese as illegitimate. In the present day, an estimated 12 million Catholics are said to practice in China, split between the official Chinese Catholic Church that is run and sanctioned by the Chinese government and the unofficial “underground churches” that remain loyal to the Vatican itself.

Many observers had hoped that the relationship between the two parties would improve in 2007, as result of Pope Benedict XVI’s open letter to China, although the subsequent talks were halted in 2010. The ensuing rift that developed has centered upon the appointment of Catholic bishops within China and the growing pressure placed upon unlicensed churches and clergy, who are unwilling to sever ties with the Vatican.

According to research by the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a Catholic research institute located in Hong Kong, China’s Catholic population has stagnated at approximately 12 million. In 2012, two seminaries were shut down due to the falling numbers of priests, leading many commentators to suggest that the officially atheist Communist party is tightening its control over organized religions.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has responded to the Pope’s resignation by stating that the Vatican “should not interfere in China’s internal affairs” and said he hoped that Pope Benedict XVI’s successor would “create conditions for the improvement of bilateral relations”, confirming the government’s continued demand for Catholic concession.

Does Catholicism, or indeed any organized religion, have a place in China’s future?




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