BEIJING, (Reuters) – The Vatican must “face the facts” about religious freedom in China, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, rebuffing the pope’s Christmas Day message which decried the persecution of Chinese Catholics.
“We hope the Vatican can face the facts of China’s religious freedom and the development of Catholicism in China, and take concrete actions to promote positive conditions for China-Vatican relations,” ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing. She did not elaborate.
Pope Benedict on Saturday — Christmas Day — denounced limits on freedom of worship in China and encouraged Catholics there to persevere.
An editorial on Monday in the English-language edition of the Global Times, run by Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, was more blunt it its criticism, saying the pope acted “more like a Western politician that a religious leader”.
“The Vatican has to face the fact that all religious beliefs are free in China, as long as they do not run counter to the country’s laws,” it said, adding that citizenship supersedes religious identity.
China’s 8 to 12 million Catholics are divided between a state-sanctioned church which names bishops without the Vatican’s approval and an underground church wary of government ties. China rankled the Vatican earlier this month when it forced several Chinese bishops and priests loyal to the pope to attend a meeting of a state-backed church that does not have the pope’s approval.
In November, the Vatican condemned China for naming a bishop without the pope’s approval, calling the episode a “painful wound” hampering dialogue between the Holy See and Beijing.
China says it protects religious freedom, but does not recognise the authority of the pope and refuses to establish formal relations with the Vatican until the Holy See — the Church’s governing body — severs ties with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade territory.