The Vatican has defended itself after a senior cardinal accused it of “selling out” to Beijing.
Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong had criticised the Vatican for its attempts at diplomacy with China’s government.
He accused the Church of forcing bishops to retire in favour of replacements picked by Beijing.
The Vatican did not directly mention Cardinal Zen but said criticism of its China policy was “fostering confusion and controversy”.
Cardinal Zen had in a Facebook post on Monday revealed that a Vatican delegation had asked a bishop to give up his post to make room for a replacement backed by Beijing.
Cardinal Zen, whose term as bishop of Hong Kong came to an end in 2009, said he had travelled to the Vatican earlier this month and personally raised the issue with Pope Francis.
“Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China?” he wrote on Facebook. “Yes definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all they are doing in recent years and months.”
In its response, the Vatican said the Pope was in “constant contact with his collaborators… on Chinese issues”.
“It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy,” the Director of the Holy See Press Office Greg Burke said in a statement.
China and the Church
China broke off diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951, and many of the nation’s Catholics face the choice of attending state-sanctioned churches approved by Beijing or worshipping in “underground” congregations.
Relations between the Vatican and China have been strained by disputes over who can appoint bishops in the country.
However, recent reports have indicated that China and the Vatican are close to a historic agreement governing the selection of bishops for the country’s 10 million Chinese Roman Catholics.
There are currently about 100 Catholic bishops in China, with some approved by Beijing, some approved by the Vatican and, informally, many now approved by both.