updated 3/25/2006 8:23:24 PM ET 2006-03-26T01:23:24

The Vatican’s foreign minister said Saturday that the “time is ripe” for the Holy See and Beijing to establish diplomatic relations, and confirmed it is ready to move its embassy from Taiwan.

However, there were some things that the Vatican will not give up, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo said, in an apparent reference to the Roman Catholic Church’s tradition that the pope names his bishops. China demands a say in the appointment of bishops.

“As is known, there have already been various contacts, with ups and downs,” Lajolo said in an interview with Hong Kong station I-Cable TV.

“It seems to me that the Holy See has clearly explained what it is asking for, what it is ready to concede and what it can never give up if it is to remain faithful to itself. In our opinion, the time is ripe.”

The text from the interview was made available at the Vatican during the ceremonies installing 15 new cardinals, including Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen, an outspoken champion of religious freedom in China.

Hang-up over bishop policy
Zen acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that the appointment of bishops was the chief obstacle, but said he was confident a formula could be found to overcome the differences.

“They should not be afraid,” Zen said of the Beijing authorities, suggesting they held an outdated view of the Church as an “imperialist” institution.

Zen stressed the importance of continuing contacts with the Holy See, spurred by Pope Benedict XVI’s desire to reach out to China. “For a long time they had stopped talking,” he said.

Lajolo said it was clear that the spiritual needs of the several million Catholics in China are more urgent than those of the 300,000 Catholics in Taiwan.

“For this reason the Holy See has manifested its willingness to transfer the apostolic nunciature from Taipei to Beijing just as in 1952, on account of the circumstances of the time, it transferred the nunciature from mainland China to Taiwan.”

He added that the Vatican had communicated its wish to move its embassy to both governments.

Millions of unofficial Catholics
Roman Catholics on mainland China were forced to cut ties with the Vatican shortly after the officially atheistic Communist Party took power in 1949. Worship is allowed only in government-controlled churches, but millions belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome. The authority to appoint bishops on the mainland has been a major obstacle in relations between the Vatican and China.

Lajolo said the Vatican does not intend to weaken its “bonds of friendship” with Taiwan Catholics and the entire population.

Last month, Zen said the Taiwanese were “psychologically preparing” for a change in their status with the Vatican.

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