Sunday, October 12, 2008

China denies Bishops trip to Rome: Vatican

VATICAN CITY: China has denied permission for Catholic bishops to travel to Rome for a Church meeting, a Vatican spokesman said on Friday, in a sign of new strains between Beijing's communist government and the Vatican.

Chief Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said Beijing, which has had difficult relations with the Vatican over the years, had made it clear in preliminary contacts that travel requests would be denied. Bishops from Macao and Hong Kong, regions with a degree of autonomy from Beijing, will attend the month-long synod, which starts on Sunday.

"(There were) talks with the Chinese authorities to see if other bishops from mainland China could come. It was clear that there would be no agreement and they won't come," Lombardi said. China's communist government does not allow its Catholics to recognise the Pope's authority and forces them to be members of a state-backed Catholic organisation.

China's 8 to 12 million Catholics are split between the officially approved church and an "underground" one loyal to the Pope. The lack of participation by the mainland bishops came as a surprise because there had been signs of an improvement in relations this year. A bishop from Hong Kong represented Pope Benedict at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in August and in May China's national orchestra played for the Pope at an unprecedented concert in the Vatican.

Benedict has made improving relations with China a main goal of his pontificate and hopes diplomatic ties can be restored. China says before restoring ties, broken off two years after the 1949 Communist takeover, the Vatican must sever relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

3 Oct 2008, 1806 hrs IST,REUTERS

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