BY ANABEL INGE
POPE BENEDICT XVI has called on the Chinese government to allow greater religious freedom in a landmark letter to the country's Catholics appealing for reconciliation between "underground" communities and those officially registered with the authorities.
The letter was welcomed by China's state-controlled Catholic Church, which hailed it as proof of the Pontiff's "love and concern" for Catholics living in the Communist state.
"This is different from earlier papal letters," Liu Bainian, the deputy head of the Chinese Patriotic Association, told the Press.
But elsewhere there were signs that the letter, addressed to the Church in China, was not warmly received.
Shortly after the 55-page document was posted online several Catholic websites in China were ordered to remove it.
The letter was published as Vatican sources spoke of the possibility of a papal trip to China in the autumn.
In the letter, the Pope attacked the Chinese gov emment's intervention in Church affairs and laid out guidelines to foster greater unity between the official and clandestine Church in China.
The Pontiff criticised the government's insistence that Church communities be registered and declared "official". The result has been division among the clergy and laity, along with "suspicions, mutual accusations and recriminations", he said.
Pope Benedict XVI also criticised the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association for its declared purpose of making the Church autonomous and democratically administrated, which is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient Creeds professes the Church to be 'one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic' ".
Addressing the question of the legitimacy of Chinese bishops, the Pope said that the China Catholic Bishops' College could not be recognised as a bishops' conference by the Vatican because it excludes bishops in communion with Rome and includes illegitimate bishops. He also called for freedom to exercise his "supreme spiritual authority" by appointing his own bishops.
The Pope urged illegitimate bishops to seek reconciliation with the Vatican.
Despite the criticisms, the letter came with an explanatory note that emphasised that the Pope did not seek to inflame tensions.
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