Beijing hits back after condemnation by Vatican

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China hit back yesterday after the Vatican criticised Beijing's religious appointments. It described the Holy See's comments as "dangerous" and harmful to the Catholic Church's development in China.

The Vatican condemned China last week for violating religious freedom and human rights after the election of senior members of China's official Catholic church. A prelate unrecognised by the Vatican was put in charge of its bishop's council. The Vatican labelled the decision an "unacceptable and hostile act."

A statement posted yesterday on the website of China's State Administration for Religious Affairs responded by saying the Vatican is trying to use religion to implement political philosophy.

Communist China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, and relations have long been tense. Only state-backed churches are recognised, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.

Last week's Vatican statement "was a rude trampling of and contempt for the democratic will of the Chinese Catholic Church, and it was extremely arrogant and disrespectful," China's statement said.

"Does a Chinese religious organisation have to get a 'majestic authorisation' or 'gracious approval' from a foreign group to elect its leadership?" the statement said.

Bishop Ma Yinglin, whose ordination in 2006 was not recognised by the Vatican, was chosen as head of the bishops' conference of the government-backed church. Rome reportedly considers him too close to the Chinese church's leadership.