Rome, Sept. 17 (CNA) A likely agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops would be aimed more at dealing with Catholic religious affairs in China rather than any political or diplomatic issues, Republic of China (Taiwan) Ambassador to the Holy See Matthew S.M. Lee (李世明) said recently.
Taiwan will continue its efforts to solidify its diplomatic ties with the Vatican, Lee said Monday, responding to speculation in the international media that a historic deal between China and the Vatican on how to appoint bishops in China was imminent and could lead to a severance of diplomatic relations between Holy See and Taiwan.
High ranking officials in the Vatican have "told us the agreement is aimed at handling Catholic religious affairs in China and carries no political or diplomatic connotations," Lee said.
China and the Holy See are widely reported to be on the verge of signing a controversial agreement on the matter, and the Taiwan embassy is working to verify whether that is so, Lee said in an exclusive interview with CNA.
He said the Vatican is hoping such an agreement would help deal with Catholic religious affairs in China and thus open up a new page for Catholics there, while ensuring the protection of religious freedom, Lee said.
In Wall Street Journal report Sept. 14, two anonymous sources were cited as saying that under the agreement, Beijing would recognize the pope as head of China's Catholics in return for the Vatican's recognition of excommunicated Chinese bishops.
Beijing has not taken any steps to refute the report, as it would normally do when a story is unfavorable to China, which might mean that the report is accurate, Lee said.
Other international news reports have said that such a major concession by Beijing represented a leap in the discussions between the Vatican and China, he said.
On the question of why the Vatican would choose to sign such an agreement with Beijing shortly after the Communist Party stepped up controls on the Catholic Church and all other religions in China, Lee said the pope cares about the Catholic Church there and the Holy See would consider a poor deal better than no deal.
"We believe the Vatican wants the agreement to give the Chinese people a chance to lead a normal life of faith, ease the oppression of Chinese Catholics, facilitate the integration of Chinese Catholic churches and universal churches, and in turn help promote religious freedom throughout China," Lee said.