ROME (AFP) — The leader of Hong Kong's Catholic Church said Monday that China was still not ready for a papal visit, as he denounced the Asian power's lack of religious and media freedoms, a news agency reported.
"The time has still not come for an official visit from the pope in China. His trip would be used, misunderstood, and it would do nothing to serve the faithful of the Church of Rome," said Cardinal Joseph Zen.
"The Chinese government, even in these pre-Olympic times, wants to control everything," he said, quoted by Italy's ANSA news agency.
Zen also made reference to a letter sent in May 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI to the authorities in Beijing in which he pressed China to respect religious freedom and the Vatican's right to appoint its own bishops.
"After this letter, nothing has changed," he said.
The Chinese government "has accepted to postpone, during the Olympic period, the new ordination of bishops but nothing makes us think that things will change."
"In China, there is neither religious freedom or freedom of the press, even if the government seems to have made overtures because of the Olympics, and there is still control over the Internet," said Zen.
"The Olympic Games could help change a situation which is currently immobile and suppressed. I hope the government will end up by understanding that religious freedom is an improvement which can bring wellbeing and progress."
There are estimated to be around eight to 12 million "underground" Catholics loyal to the pope in China, worshipping in makeshift churches, whilst another five million belong to the government-led church.
China and the Vatican have been at loggerheads since China's rulers severed ties in 1951, after the Vatican recognised Taiwan.
The Vatican has said it is ready to scrap ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing if China could guarantee religious freedom, and in particular if Beijing would give the pope free rein in naming bishops in China.
Beijing has imposed two conditions -- recognition of the one-China policy that precludes independence for Taiwan, and of religious affairs as an internal Chinese matter -- for any diplomatic ties with the Vatican.
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