Meetings between Vatican and Chinese representatives are reportedly taking place in government buildings in Beijing. According to the London Times, sources close to the discussions say they had reached a detailed and businesslike stage.
One Vatican official said they were “somewhat optimistic” about the discussions with the Chinese government. The official said a papal visit before the Olympic Games in August was “very unrealistic,” but an announcement of an agreement and a future visit would be a public relations gift to Chinese leaders.
There are at least 10 million Catholics in China, but they are split between the government-recognized Patriotic Association and the underground Church whose members have endured martyrdom, imprisonment, and harassment since the communist takeover in 1949.
On June 30, 2007, Pope Benedict issued a letter to Chinese Catholics praising the devotion of the underground Church, but also urging reconciliation and unity among Christians. The letter’s emphasis on obedience to the Vatican was interpreted by some Beijing officials as a sign that the Pope wanted to prepare the underground clergy for a change in policy.
Nevertheless, the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, explained the Letter’s intentions differently. “The Pope is not seeking confrontation with anyone. He is not launching accusations, inside or outside the Church.… The exhortation to unity, reconciliation, and reciprocal forgiveness is one of the most intense messages sustained throughout the letter.”
Further dialogue must still take place, Fr. Lombardi said shortly after the issuance of the Letter to the Church in China. “If Chinese officials tend to be worried about external interference in the life of the country, the Church for her part is concerned about undue interference from the State in her internal life,” he said.