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Mild response from Beijing

VATICAN (AsiaNews): Beijing has responded to a statement from the Vatican on the presence of an illicitly ordained bishop at two ordinations in China on November 30 and December 2, as well as the Congress of Catholic Representatives that was running for three days after Christmas, in what is being described as a surprisingly mild tone.

A Vatican official told AsiaNews on the quiet that a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, Hua Chunying, simply reiterated the intention of her country to negotiate with the Vatican in a sincere manner.

At a routine press conference in Beijing on December 21, the day following the release of the Vatican statement, Hua was asked what positive signals she thinks may come out of the congress that could improve Beijing’s relationship with the Vatican.

Hua replied in a polite tone, saying, “The Chinese government upholds a consistent and clear principle in handling relations with the Vatican.”

She added, “The Chinese side is always sincere about improving relations with the Vatican and has been working relentlessly to that end. We would like to work with the Vatican toward the shared goal and push for new progress in improving bilateral relations and promoting constructive dialogue.”

The statement from the Vatican was released by the media officer, Greg Burke. It concerns the position of the Holy See regarding the ordinations in Chengdu and Xichang, where Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin gatecrashed proceedings and concelebrated at the ordination Masses.

Parishioners say that they were told by local government officials that he was present on orders from higher up.

The statement also said that the Congress of Catholic Representatives is incompatible with doctrine, but added the rider that the Vatican is reserving comment or making any judgments until it knows all the facts.

The Holy See is hoping to see some positive signals from the government come out of this year’s congress in order to encourage people “to place their trust in the dialogue between the civil authorities and the Holy See and to hope for a future of unity and harmony.”

An official from the Vatican said he believes that this is the first time a comment from the Holy See on the Church in China has been met with an even, polite response, without any trace of anger and without the reiteration the typical stereotypical images of the government vision of the Church.

He added that it is also significant that Hua did not mention the principles of autonomy, self-election or self-ordination.

In addition, no mention was made of the old favourite, diplomatic ties with Taiwan. “We hope that this is a sign of improvement,” the official said.

Nevertheless, the continually cautious attitude that many hold towards statements from Beijing says that the response from the Foreign Ministry is perhaps more an attempt not to open a new front of tension in relations with other countries.

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