03/21/2008, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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The Vatican's "double face", according to Beijing

Ye Xiaowen, the religious affairs minister, lashes out against an imaginary power grab on the part of the Vatican, and rejects any sort of openness, precisely while a Chinese delegation is meeting with the secretariat of state in Rome.

Rome (AsiaNews) - "The Vatican presents itself to us with a double face": while it is seeking diplomatic relations with Beijing, in reality it wants to return to "the control and management of the Catholic Church in China".

And again: "the Vatican hates socialism", but for it, opening the doors of China "is among the most important missions of the 'strategy of the new millennium' for the Catholic Church", a means of acquiring political power and becoming once again "the Centre of the world".  At this point, "Cuba is administrated by them [by the Vatican]. Vietnam is administered by them.  Among the socialist countries, only China has continued to ignore them".

These are only a few of the weighty statements made by Ye Xiaowen, director of the state administration for religious affairs, a ministry of the Chinese government.

The statements are part of a long interview granted by Ye to the weekly Nan Fang last March 13.  The weighty accusations against the Vatican and against Benedict XVI are even more significant if one considers that this interview was published while in Vatican City a Chinese delegation was meeting with members of the secretariat of state to study - according to information leaked by the Vatican - the possible steps for restoring the diplomatic relations interrupted by Beijing in 1951, with the expulsion of the nuncio at the time.

The question that many are asking is this: Why in the world, with a delegation at the Vatican to speak about future diplomatic relations, would a member of the same government continue to express outworn, closed-off positions? Some observers think that there is division in the Chinese leadership, between those who want greater openness and freedom and those who remain bound to Maoist and Stalinist perspectives.  Others think that Beijing is simply playing a double game, in keeping with Chinese tradition.  In this case, the overtures of the Chinese delegation and Beijing's desire to establish diplomatic relations would simply be a means of "pacifying" the Vatican while China comes into the spotlight with the Olympics.  An expert on China has even told AsiaNews: "Don't worry; after the Olympics, everything will go back to the way it was".

In his long interview, Ye speaks of "a conflict between China and the Vatican" that has lasted for more than half a century.  In his view, the letter from Benedict XVI to the Chinese Catholics is to be appreciated for its limitation of the faculties of the underground bishops, but otherwise "it is a step backward" because it forces "Chinese Catholics to remain completely united to the pope, forcing them once again to choose between their party and the Church".  And citing a Chinese expert on religious questions [editor's note: Liu Bainian, vice president of the patriotic association?], he affirms that "the publication of the pastoral letter demonstrates that the pope is continuing along the path of opposition to Beijing".

The "danger" of Benedict XVI's letter lies in the fact that it "publicly denies [the value of] the patriotic association; it rejects the episcopal conference [the council of Chinese bishops, which the Holy See maintains is defective because it does not include the unauthorised bishops and does not have approval from Rome]; it denies the principle of independence, autonomy, and the self-direction [of the Church]", above all in the appointment of bishops.

In his letter published last June, Benedict XVI asked the Chinese authorities for religious freedom, especially in the appointment of bishops, because this "touches the very heart of the life of the Church", explaining that this responsibility is not a question of "a political authority, unduly asserting itself in the internal affairs of a State and offending against its sovereignty".

For Ye Xiaowen, "continuing to maintain the principles of independence, autonomy, and self-direction is the supreme interest of the Chinese nation".

The interview also dealt with other "political" topics, including the problem of Taiwan.  "The Vatican", Ye asserts, "recognises the illegitimate power of Taiwan, and does not recognise the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate government".  From this, he concludes that anyone who has "secret contact with the Vatican . . . lacks the sense of patriotism that a Chinese citizen should have".

Another hot topic is the canonisation of the Chinese martyrs in 2000, in which the Vatican, "in spite of our objections, carried out a 'canonisation' on our national holiday, proclaiming all of those missionaries judged as saints by the people of the countryside.  Among these 'saints', some were shameless libertines, while others were guilty of horrendous crimes".

Various Chinese historians have explored the topic of missionary work in the 20th century, demonstrating the value of the presence of missionaries and correcting the accusations of the Maoist period, which Ye makes his own.  Unfortunately, the government has banned the publication of these studies. (BC)

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