Pope Benedict’s letter to Chinese Catholics, in which his Holiness called for greater religious freedom and increased dialogue, has vanished from China-based Catholic websites after a visit from state representatives, a Vatican-sponsored news agency recently reported. Meanwhile
Asia News reports that it has become impossible to access the Internet site of the Holy See, which is connected to the Vatican department dealing with foreign missions. Chinese priests and lay people who run Catholic portals in the country confirmed the blackout on the papal letter, some speculating conspiracy theories at the hands of Chinese government officials.
China’s Catholic community, said to number between 12 and 14 million, is sharply divided between those who swear an allegiance to the pope and those who uphold the ultimate authority of the Chinese state. In a 55-page letter to Catholic believers in Asia, Pope Benedict called on China to lift its restrictions on religious freedom that ‘suffocate’ the Church and divide Catholics. As well, the pope called for greater dialogue with the officially atheist state, making it clear he wished to restore diplomatic ties with Beijing, severed in 1951 following the Communist Revolution.
The Chinese government re--sponded promptly to the letter, asking the Vatican not to ‘create new obstacles’ that would damage future relations. The Asian press has since cited an anonymous Chinese priest who said the apparent ban ‘shows how true what the pope wrote about government influence in religious affairs is’. Nonetheless, the papal letter still reached the Chinese Catholic community, sent around by fax or delivered by hand. It was also downloaded from the Internet thanks to decoy websites that managed to elude government censorship.