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Mystery behind who prevented Chinese Catholics traveling to South Korea for papal visit

  • China Pope-1.jpg

    A Chinese priest holds up a bible during a mass at the 400-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, China, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Chinese Catholics on Friday cheered Pope Francis’ visit to neighboring South Korea, saying they hoped his trip to their region would help end the estrangement between Beijing and the Vatican. However, China’s entirely state-run media imposed a virtual news blackout on his visit, ensuring the public at large would know little about Francis’ activities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) (The Associated Press)

  • China Pope-2.jpg

    The faithful take part in a mass at the 400-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, China, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Chinese Catholics on Friday cheered Pope Francis’ visit to neighboring South Korea, saying they hoped his trip to their region would help end the estrangement between Beijing and the Vatican. However, China’s entirely state-run media imposed a virtual news blackout on his visit, ensuring the public at large would know little about Francis’ activities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) (The Associated Press)

  • APTOPIX China Pope-3.jpg

    The faithful shop for religious paraphernalia at the 400-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, China, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Chinese Catholics on Friday cheered Pope Francis’ visit to neighboring South Korea, saying they hoped his trip to their region would help end the estrangement between Beijing and the Vatican. However, China’s entirely state-run media imposed a virtual news blackout on his visit, ensuring the public at large would know little about Francis’ activities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) (The Associated Press)

Days after Chinese officials blocked Catholics from seeing the pope in South Korea, it's still unclear who was behind the action or why it was taken.

Reports say about 50 Catholic clergy and laypeople were stopped at Chinese airports earlier this week.

Experts on the Chinese church say the travel bans were likely the work of overzealous local Communist Party bureaucrats responsible for religious affairs.

However, the central government in Beijing has offered no clarification on the matter, underscoring its discomfort about how to deal with the Vatican.

The sides have no formal ties and are locked in a dispute over who has the right to appoint bishops and overall religious freedoms under the officially atheistic ruling party.