VATICAN CITY, Italy — Pope Benedict XVI called on Beijing to respect “authentic religious freedom” in a letter to China’s Catholics on Saturday, warning that China’s official Church was incompatible with Catholic doctrine.
In a strongly worded letter published by the Vatican, the German pontiff also insisted on the freedom to appoint bishops loyal only to Rome, adding that bishops of the state-sponsored church “cannot be recognized” by the Holy See.
Benedict said he realized that normalizing relations with China — a key aim of his pontificate — required time and goodwill from both sides.
However, he wrote: “The Holy See would require to be completely free to appoint bishops, therefore considering the recent particular developments of the Church in China, I trust that an accord can be reached with the government so as to resolve certain questions regarding the choice of candidates for the episcopate.”
“For its part, the Holy See remains open to negotiations, so necessary if the difficulties of the present time are to be overcome.”
The Vatican announced on January 20 that it wanted to normalize relations at various levels with China where the official Catholic Church, which has five million members, exists alongside an underground Church which counts about 10 million faithful who remain loyal to Rome.