The Vatican should respect China's sovereignty and not interfere with China's bishop appointments, an official of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association told the Global Times on Tuesday, in response to Pope Francis disclosing that he exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping
"China will always safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and it never allows foreign forces to interfere with religion. The Vatican should respect China in terms of the personnel of a diocese," Liu Yuanlong, vice president of Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, told the Global Times.
Pope Francis said he exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping a year ago and that the Vatican has relations with China, according to an interview with newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Bloomberg reported on March 5.
Pope Francis is the first Pope to disclose that he received a reply from a Chinese leader to whom he wrote letters, the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television reported on Tuesday.
"We are close to China," Francis, who was inaugurated in March 2013, said in the interview, noting that he sent a letter to President Xi when he was elected and Xi replied. "There are relations. It's a great people that I love," he said.
"China's Catholic Church has always had contact with the Vatican, but not in the name of its church groups, as they are run independently," said Wang Meixiu, a research fellow with the Institute of World Religion Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Wang said that the progress of the two sides' relations can improve the relations between the local churches and the Vatican.
Hong Kong's Cardinal John Tong Hon told the Global Times that the lack of communication and understanding between the two sides hinders the development of the relationship.
Francis, who used to be provincial superior of the Society of Jesus, may be favorable to normalizing bilateral relations, as Matteo Ricci, a missionary to China whose friendship was widely acknowledged by Chinese people, was also from the organization.
"The Pope is willing to consolidate relations with China no matter what part of the congregation he is from and this is his duty," Wang said.
The Vatican and China do not have a diplomatic relationship.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
has repeatedly urged the Vatican to sever its so-called diplomatic relationship with Taiwan and recognize the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government representing China. Beijing and the Vatican are also embroiled in a dispute over the authority to appoint bishops.