Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SCMP) China's official Catholic Church is still negotiating with the Vatican over sending mainland bishops to a synod in Rome, said Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs after a religious ceremony in Hong Kong.
Ye's remarks came after the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) expressed disappointment at the invitation. CCPA chairman Liu Bainian criticised the Holy See for maintaining ties with Taipei and releasing the invitation list without consulting Beijing.
But Mr Ye yesterday said mainland Catholics saw Pope Benedict's invitation as a "friendly gesture".
"It is obviously a harmonious sign," he said. "And it is still in the negotiating process. It is a show of yihe weigui [peace is precious]."
The four mainland bishops invited are Xian Archbishop Li Duan, Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, Qiqihar Bishop Wei Jingyi and Fengxiang Bishop Li Jingfeng.
The first two are recognised by the government; the third has still not been recognised; the fourth was recognised just last year. Also invited are Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and Taiwanese Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi.
Mr Ye stressed it was likely that some of the bishops would not be able to make the journey due to age or ill health.
"One [of them] is also terminally ill," he said, apparently referring to Archbishop Li Duan, who has cancer.
He also said he did not consider Bishop Wei of the underground church a bishop.
Asked about the presence of representatives from Taiwan, Mr Ye said Beijing did not want to see "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan" in any international conferences. But "it is their own business if Taiwanese bishops join the synod. . . . They have the right to go", he said.
Traditionally, China's State Bureau of Religious Affairs has refused establishing diplomatic relations with the Holy See because of the latter's ties with Taiwan.
Taiwan's Bishops' Conference said it would send two representatives: Cardinal Shan, 81 and Tainan's 62-year-old Bishop Bosco Lin.
For Fr John Chen Kun-chen, secretary-general of the Taiwanese Conference, religion and politics should not be mixed.
"It is regrettable if the mainland sees the synodand sets perimeters for them and usfrom a political angle," he said.