Vatican expresses concern over Chinese religious restrictions

Pope Francis leads the Italian conference of bishops (CEI) meeting in the Synod Hall at the Vatican, May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

VATICAN CITY (Reuters)

The Vatican and China have held new talks on the naming of bishops and the Holy See raised concerns over a tightening of restrictions on religious practice, Vatican and diplomatic sources said on Friday.

The talks between the two delegations, the first since a meeting in Beijing in December, took place quietly in Rome in recent days, the sources said. The Vatican has not announced the talks.

Vatican sources said there was still no clear idea on when the deal could be signed but that the dialogue was continuing.

Catholics in China are split between those in “underground” communities that recognise the pope and those belonging to a state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association where bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with local Church communities.

An even partial resolution of the thorny issue of the appointment of bishops could open the way for an eventual resumption of diplomatic relations nearly 70 years after they were cut during the Communist takeover of China.

While not part of the present talks, full relations would give the Church a legal framework to look after all of China’s estimated 12 million Catholics and move on to focus on Catholic growth in a country where Protestant churches are already growing fast.

The Vatican side expressed its concern over restrictions, including one that banned unaccompanied minors from entering churches in several regions, one of the sources said.

It was not possible to reach any members of the Chinese delegation.