Pope rejects Hong Kong cardinal's request to give up bishop post

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.

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