BEIJING (AFP) - China's state-controlled Catholic church (view link) on Monday praised a letter from Pope Benedict XVI and voiced hope that the Vatican and Beijing would soon be able to establish formal relations.
"The pope, through his papal letter has expressed his love and concern for China's believers.... This is different from earlier papal letters," Liu Bainian, deputy head of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, told AFP.
"Earlier papal letters were opposed to communism and the socialist system. They wanted to (punish) members of China's patriotic church. Now the situation is not the same. The pope wants to better understand China's Church."
The papal letter, published Saturday, expressed "good intentions," Liu said, adding that he hoped Beijing and the Vatican could improve ties and soon establish diplomatic relations.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association's comments appeared to offer a warmer response to the letter than that of the Chinese government, which urged the Vatican on Saturday not to create new barriers to the improvement of relations.
The government statement reiterated China's long-standing conditions for the normalisation of relations -- the Vatican must break off ties with Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, and surrender the authority to appoint members of the clergy.
In the letter, the pope said the Roman Catholic Church "does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the state."
He asked Catholics in China to be good and respectful citizens and "active contributors to the common good in their country."
However, the pope also pressed China to respect religious freedom and the Vatican's right to appoint its own bishops, dismissing Beijing's nominees as "illegitimate."
He also warned that China's official church was "incompatible with Catholic doctrine."