China and Vatican discuss ties

China and the Vatican are in contact about normalizing relations but haven't worked out a timetable, a government newspaper said Monday.

"The contact between us has been continuing all along but it is hard to set a timetable," said Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, quoted by the China Daily newspaper.

The Vatican has said the "time is ripe" to establish ties with Beijing and says it is ready to move its embassy from rival Taiwan, a key sticking point.

But the two sides are divided over China's insistence on appointing its own bishops. The communist government forced Roman Catholics to cut their ties to Rome in 1951 and allows worship only in churches run by the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Ye said Beijing has not changed its stance on the issue of bishops, though he said it was open for discussion.

"We have always been appointing and consecrating our own bishops," Ye said. "This is what we must stick to."

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. The Vatican is the last European government that has official relations with Taipei.

The newly appointed Roman Catholic cardinal in Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, said last weekend that China's official church has to relinquish some control if Sino-Vatican relations are to be established.

Hong Kong is Chinese territory but its Catholics are allowed direct contact with the Vatican and Zen was appointed by the pope, reports the AP.

I.L.