The State Administration for Religious Affairs released a statement Wednesday, urging the Vatican to rescind its "excommunication" threat against two Chinese bishops and look squarely at the history and reality of Catholic churches in China.
There have been both dialogues and frictions between China and the Vatican. The setbacks to their ties are often linked to politics, rather than pure religious belief.
In the 1950s, diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican broke down, as the latter insisted that Taiwan was the legitimate Chinese government. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association was forced to consecrate elected bishops, after the Vatican threatened to excommunicate Chinese candidates.
These threats, many researchers believe, were related to the Vatican's ideological attitude toward Communist governments. In fact, the Vatican's religious assertions are never separate from its political inclination. In recent years, the Vatican's repeated criticisms of China's religious freedom sound no different from those of some Western politicians.
Even after China has become increasingly integrated with the world, economically and politically, the Vatican's view is the same as that of more than half a century ago.
As a secular country, China has its own legal principles and established means for organizing religious life, which have helped guarantee the healthy growth of Chinese churches over the past decades.
Catholicism, as one part of Chinese religious life, is equal with other religions in this nation. Religious identity is not above everything else, as the Vatican constantly advocates.
All religious activities should be held within Chinese legal boundaries, so as to ensure public order and the benign interaction between religious development and social interest.
The Vatican should respect the reality, rather than repeatedly wield the threat of excommunication to change the way Chinese Catholics elect their bishops.
As for the latest ordination of a new bishop in Heilongjiang Province, the Vatican censured that without papal approval, divisions, wounds and tensions would be created within the Chinese Catholic community. But the Vatican needs to think about whether its own endeavors to change the Chinese way of picking bishops may spark conflicts within the Catholic community. This can hardly be called religious tolerance.
Religious elements being used to achieve political ends have brought challenges for various countries. While some Western media have backed the Vatican's calls, they seem to have forgotten their own history of freeing themselves of the Pope's control.
The Vatican should rethink its arbitrary requests toward China. Open, repeated threats will prove to be a way that only leads to escalation in tensions between both sides.