BEIJING - China has rejected the Vatican's criticism of a recent national congress of Chinese Catholics, blaming the Vatican for damaging relations between the two sides.
A spokesperson for the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) said Wednesday the Vatican's criticism was very imprudent and ungrounded.
In a statement dated December 17, the Vatican condemned the congress, which elected the new leadership of China's Catholic church, and accused China of violating religious freedom.
The congress from December 7 to 9 elected the heads and other senior members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC).
The spokesperson said the congress, which is held every five years to amend the CCPA's and BCCCC's constitutions, elect a new leadership and set future agenda, does not deal with Catholic doctrines or violate the fundamental Catholic faith, and "there is no question of getting recognition by any foreign organization or state."
The spokesperson said China's religious freedom was protected by the Chinese Constitution, and it was a misinterpretation by the Vatican to declare the incompatibility of Catholic doctrine and the Chinese Catholic church's principle of independent self-governance.
China's Constitution grants Chinese citizens freedom of religious beliefs, but requires independence of religious organizations and affairs in China from foreign influence.
Under this constitutional provision, the Catholic church and other religions in China adhered to the principle of self-governance and self-support, the spokesperson said.
The CCPA and the BCCCC endorsed this principle in their new constitutions adopted at the congress, according to the spokesperson.
"The BCCCC fulfills her Pastoral Mission at the Faith and Evangelization according to the power and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit endowed upon His Disciples," said the BCCCC's constitution.
On the dogma and moral teachings of the Church, the constitution said the BCCCC is "in union with the Successor of St. Peter, the Head of the community of the Disciples."
"Has the Vatican not read the two constitutions? Or is it obscuring the boundary between faith and politics on purpose?" the spokesperson said in response to Vatican's declaration of the incompatibility of the constitutions with Catholic doctrine.
The spokesperson called the Vatican's practice of seeking to push political ideology through religious belief "very dangerous" and warned it could have serious percussions for the Catholic church's development in China.
The spokesperson said the congress, which was established over 50 years ago, is a democratic assembly for Chinese Catholics that has the full respect from the Chinese government.
The Vatican has resorted to various methods to prevent the Congress convening in recent years, including by threatening to "punish" the Chinese Catholic clergy who attend it.
"Who is actually using coercive measures and demanding Catholics betray their conscience? Isn't it crystal clear?" the spokesperson asked.
At the eighth congress, Bishop Fang Xingyao was elected CCPA chairman and Bishop Ma Yinglin was elected head of the BCCCC.
The spokesperson said the senior leaders of the two organizations were elected with a majority of the vote, reflecting the will of the congress's representatives.
In condemning the elected leadership, the Vatican had trampled and shown its contempt for the democratic will of Catholic clergy and laymen in China, the spokesperson said, adding that the condemnation was extremely arbitrary and rude.
"Does a Chinese religious organization have to get a 'majestic authorization' or 'gracious approval' from a foreign group to elect its leadership?" the spokesperson refuted.
The spokesperson blamed the Vatican for unilaterally causing the current "regretful situation in China-Vatican relations."
Hoping to improve China-Vatican relations, China had shown its willingness to have sincere and constructive dialogue with the Vatican in recent years, the spokesperson said.
Despite China's efforts, some people in the Vatican always stymied Chinese efforts to improve relations by making unreasonable demands, the spokesperson said, calling the Vatican's condemnation of the Congress the latest example of such moves.
The Vatican, moreover, had interfered in the internal affairs of China's Catholic Church in both open and clandestine ways in an attempt to control the church, the spokesperson said.
China-Vatican ties were cut after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
The spokesperson said China hoped the Vatican could speak and act prudently, so as not to further damage the relationship and to allow talks between the two sides.