The pope has rejected Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen's latest request to give up his bishop duties so that he can focus more on restoring Sino-Vatican ties, his office said Wednesday.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to Zen saying that he should carry on as bishop, while doing whatever he can to improve relations between China and the Vatican, his office said in a statement.
"The pope has already verbally told him to stay on the job some time ago," Dominic Yung, Zen's spokesman, told The Associated Press. "It's just a formal letter this time."
Beijing severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communists took power and set up a separate Catholic church outside the pope's authority. Local faithful are allowed to worship only with the state-sanctioned church, which recognizes the pope as a spiritual leader but appoints its own priests and bishops, reports AP.
But about 12 million Catholics are estimated to belong to unofficial congregations loyal to the Vatican.