Vatican's foreign minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo created a bit of a stir this past weekend when he said that the "time is ripe" for the Pope and China to establish diplomatic relations, according to this Associated Press account of Lajolo's interview with the Hong Kong station I-Cable TV, which the Vatican made available to the press. The underlying big news of this story that doesn't get much play until the end is that the Vatican could be soon cutting ties with Taiwan, which is the small island's only current diplomatic ally in all of Europe. The power of the appointment of bishops appears to be the only hang-up.
Here's the heart of the story:
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.
However, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the Vatican has reassured Taiwan it will not establish diplomatic ties with China until Beijing allows more religious freedom.
"We are closely monitoring the development, but ... the Holy See's relations with us are kept as normal," said Michel Lu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Where is the underground Catholic Church in this story, other than a "but millions belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome" reference at the end? Did Lajolo mention how they would be incorporated? I'm sure those details have yet to be worked out, if this is in fact the direction that the Vatican is heading. But that influential minority deserves at least more than a passing mention.
A switch from Taiwan to China would probably be the most significant event since Pope Benedict XVI took office, and he's made no secret regarding his hope to spread the gospel in China. If this is indeed true, one would expect the story to receive greater play than it has. I'm guessing the major publications are waiting for the official announcement due to the intricate nature of the Vatican.
Or this all could be more hype. We'll have to wait and see. ...
In a related matter, I found this Washington Post article on "panda politics" to be a fascinating explainer on how the Chinese government uses its monopoly on the world's pandas to influence world leaders and even Taiwan's voters. I wonder if the Vatican has been offered one of those cuddly little white and black bears.