VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Thursday (April 14) lamented China’s interference with the Roman Catholic Church, and reaffirmed Pope Benedict XVI’s willingness to negotiate with Beijing on the appointment of bishops.
A message to Chinese Catholics, published by the pope’s special commission on China, noted the “sad episode” of a bishop in the northeastern city of Chengde who was ordained without the Vatican’s consent last November.

For half a century, Chinese Catholics have been divided between a state-run church independent of the Vatican and an “underground” church of Catholics loyal to the pope.

The “official” church, supervised by the Catholic Patriotic Association, has claimed 5 million members; the total number of Chinese Catholics is estimated at 12 million to 15 million.

Thursday’s message reiterated Benedict’s 2007 call for an agreement that would allow the Vatican to approve bishops appointed by Beijing. The message noted that the Chengde ordination took place following a series of bishops’ ordinations to which both parties had given consent.

The message did not mention the new bishop of the southern city of Jiangmen, who was ordained on Mar. 30 with the approval of the Vatican and Beijing.

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