Beijing Cautions New Pope on Meddling in China

The relationship between Beijing and the Vatican is a tense one. While the Vatican has been criticized by China for its ties to Taiwan, Beijing’s “illicit ordination” of Catholic bishops has been a cause for concern in the Roman Catholic church. China is home to an estimated 12 million Roman Catholics, many of whom choose to worship in secrecy, uncomfortable with the state-founded Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) – the body established to oversee church-related activities in China. Last year, Thaddeus Ma Daqin was placed under house arrest after being ordained as bishop by the Vatican and quitting the CPCA.

China’s Catholic community expressed shock and acceptance when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation last month. When the papal conclave announced the ascension of Pope Francis I yesterday, Beijing was quick to issue words of warning to the new pontiff. The New York Times reports:

China congratulated Pope Francis on Thursday on his ascension to the papacy, but also warned the Vatican not to interfere in what China deems to be its internal affairs.

[...]Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that Beijing hoped the pope, who was elected on Wednesday, would work with Chinese officials on improving relations. But, she said, the Vatican “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.”

She also said the Vatican must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan before ties with Beijing improve. China considers Taiwan a renegade province that is part of its territory.

A report from Reuters further quotes spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Beijing’s hope that the Vatican will cut ties with Taiwan in order to foster better relations with China, and also outlines the tensions between Beijing and the Vatican:

China’s constitution enshrines freedom of religion, but stability-obsessed leaders in the officially atheist government are wary of the appeal of a higher moral power.

The Vatican has previously condemned what it called “external pressures and constrictions” on Chinese Catholics, and the government has detained Vatican-appointed bishops who split from the Catholic Patriotic Association.

Chinese Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, ordained by the Vatican, has been held under house arrest at the Sheshan seminary in Shanghai since July after he announced that he was leaving the association.

The Vatican had refused to recognize China’s ordination to the state-run Church of Reverend Joseph Yue Fusheng, complaining he had not been blessed by the pope.

Catholic activists say other bishops have gone missing or have to contend with house arrest and surveillance.