HONG KONG – The Vatican should halt talks with China about restoring formal diplomatic ties because Beijing is ordaining bishops who aren't approved by the Roman Catholic church, a Hong Kong newspaper on Tuesday quoted a cardinal as saying.
The reported comments by Hong Kong's outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen came after China's state-sanctioned Catholic church appointed a new bishop Sunday in the southwestern city of Kunming. The Vatican had requested the ceremony be delayed until both sides could assess the candidate's qualifications.
The South China Morning Post reported that China's official church — the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association — was planning to ordain another bishop, Liu Xinhong, on Wednesday in the eastern province of Anhui.
A man who answered the phone at the St. Joseph's Church in the city of Wuhu, in Anhui, confirmed that Liu will be ordained bishop at a ceremony at the church Wednesday morning. He declined to give his name.
Zen said the Sino-Vatican dialogue "cannot continue because people will think we are prepared to surrender," the paper reported. "We cannot budge. When you brutally place such a fait accompli, how can you call this dialogue? This totally runs against the spirit of dialogue."
China cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the Communist Party took power in Beijing. Worship is only allowed in government-controlled churches, although millions of Chinese Catholics belong to the so-called "underground church" loyal to Rome.
Zen couldn't be immediately reached for comment Tuesday. His information officer, Paul To, told The Associated Press that the cardinal didn't plan to make further comments to the media in the next two weeks.
A receptionist who answered the phone at the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in Beijing on Tuesday told the AP church officials were out of the office and unavailable for comment.
China's Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to an AP request for comment.
The English-language South China Morning Post reported on its front page that Zen said the Vatican would issue a "very strong reaction to underline the seriousness of the matter" later Tuesday, or on Wednesday.
One of the sticking points in talks to restore Sino-Vatican relations has been who has the authority to appoint bishops. The Vatican has said that Beijing could have some input but the pope should have the final say.
When the new Kunming bishop, Ma Yinglin, was ordained on Sunday, China's Foreign Ministry defended the official church's right to appoint bishops without Vatican input. A ministry statement said the recent ordination of bishops "have been unanimously well received by church members and priests."
Zen was quoted as saying that the recent ordinations were part of a plan by the Chinese church's vice chairman, Liu Bainian, to "sabotage" the warming Sino-Vatican ties.
"I think it's Liu Bainian's last struggle to show that he can win once or twice. But this last-ditch struggle will definitely damage the dialogue," Zen reportedly said.