Viewing cable 06VATICAN185

06VATICAN1852006-09-01 16:14:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vatican
DE RUEHROV #0185/01 2441614
P 011614Z SEP 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VATICAN 000185 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  9/1/2016 
REF: (A) VATICAN 0155 (b) Vatican 057 
VATICAN 00000185  001.2 OF 003 
CLASSIFIED BY: Christopher Sandrolini, Charge d'affaires a.i., 
EXEC, State. 
REASON: 1.4 (d) 
¶1. (C) Summary.  Archbishop Celli, the Vatican's unofficial 
envoy to China, told Ambassador his July visit to China had a 
positive outcome and he hoped for a return visit later this 
year.  Celli does not foresee any change in the overall 
situation for Catholics in China, but does think talks with the 
GOC may lead eventually to a tacit agreement.  He described the 
complexities facing the Holy See in its efforts to deal with 
both the Chinese government and with the Catholic community on 
the mainland and in Hong Kong.  Celli said that while Chinese 
Catholics are in a cage, the cage is getting bigger.  He 
described the recent illicit ordination of two bishops as 
retaliation for the elevation of Cardinal Zen, whom China 
resents.  Celli encouraged US pressure on China in the area of 
religious freedom, but caution regarding the Holy See-China 
relationship.  End summary. 
Positive Outcome 
¶2. (C) Ambassador and DCM called on Archbishop Claudio Maria 
Celli on September 1 to discuss Celli's recent visit to China. 
Celli said that his July visit to China was positive on the 
whole, especially in three areas: 
-- Beijing had opened the doors to a serious Holy See delegation 
for the first time since 2000.  (Celli acknowledged that there 
had been other visits to China by Holy See figures, but did not 
consider them to be of the same level of importance.) 
-- He had been allowed (at his request) to visit Shandong 
province, including the cities of Qingdao, Jinan, and Qufu, 
birthplace of Confucius (Celli commented that while foreign 
religions such as Christianity are seen as threats, the 
authorities are now endorsing Confucianism and Buddhism).  While 
it was not a completely free visit, said Celli, his escorts had 
a light touch.  The visit was confidential, which precluded 
visits to churches or bishops.  However, there was one 
unscheduled stop at an empty cathedral. 
-- Celli is cautiously optimistic that he will be invited for 
another visit to China before the end of this year, and hopes to 
visit another province at that time. 
¶3.  (C) In the following discussion, Celli observed that the 
atmosphere of his visit was cordial throughout, lacking any 
calculated toughness from Chinese officials.  (Celli had talks, 
inter alia, with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and with 
the Director of the Religious Affairs Bureau.)  Nevertheless the 
situation is not easy, and it will certainly take time to 
resolve the critical ecclesiastical issue -- the question of who 
decides what bishops and priests can do, or as Celli put it, 
"the vision of church life". 
The Cage is Getting Bigger 
¶4. (C) Celli foresees no short-term change in the situation in 
China for Catholics.  Using a familiar metaphor (ref b), said 
that Catholics in China remain in a cage, but we can see a 
gradual increase in the size of the cage.  China is simply not 
in a position to grant the kinds of liberty the Holy See seeks, 
but things are slowly improving.  For its part, the Holy See 
must, and will, continue to press China further.  Celli stressed 
that China is genuinely worried about losing control.  He 
suggested that a tacit agreement might be reached in time 
between China and the Holy See, though nothing may be openly 
¶5. (C) Celli said that while economic development had produced 
astonishing results in China, the majority continues to live not 
merely in poverty, but in misery.  Privately, Chinese officials 
can be remarkably candid about this, and Celli believes the GOC 
understands the true state of affairs, but cannot yet escape its 
own ideological boundaries -- even though few believe in 
communism anymore.  (One senior official, who was able to 
converse with Celli in French, was strikingly different when 
speaking in that language and when speaking in Chinese in the 
VATICAN 00000185  002.2 OF 003 
presence of other officials.) 
Zen As Provocation 
¶6. (C) China dislikes Cardinal Zen, and its illicit ordination 
of two bishops earlier this year was a clear act of retaliation 
for Zen's elevation to cardinal.  Hardliners in the government 
-- intending to derail Rome-Beijing rapprochement -- probably 
engineered the ordinations without informing their superiors, 
who might well have blocked them but who subsequently had to go 
along to save face.  Hardliners exist on both sides; some in the 
Chinese underground church bitterly oppose any talks with the 
government.  This "underground Taliban" even encouraged detained 
clerics to stay in detention and become martyrs. 
¶7. (C) Celli noted that when word leaked out from Hong Kong 
about his visit, and journalists began to inquire, the Chinese 
authorities simply denied knowledge.  The Holy See, more 
ethically constrained, felt obliged to say simply "no comment". 
Celli said that members of the Hong Kong Catholic community were 
"talking too much". 
Release of Bishop An 
¶8.  (C) Celli said the Holy See had learned that Bishop Francis 
An Shuxin of Baoding, who was recently released after many years 
of secret detention, had in fact been in informal and relatively 
loose confinement in a residence for at least the past two 
years, during which time he had been granted visits by priests. 
The Holy See had earlier heard rumors about Bishop An's 
whereabouts and safety, but could never be sure of their 
accuracy.  Similarly, there are rumors about other clergymen 
still in unacknowledged detention, but the actual status of the 
detained is not known.  Celli said that conditions for detained 
clerics are not necessarily harsh, but the detentions are wrong 
-- especially when, as sometimes happens, elderly men are held 
away from home and familiar medical care. 
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US Role -- Push, But Recognize Limits 
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¶9. (C) Celli acknowledged the firm support of President Bush and 
the United States for religious freedom in China, and feels this 
is very helpful.  However, any specific mention of China-Holy 
See relations serves primarily as an irritant, since the Chinese 
regard this as interference in their internal affairs.  In 
short, said Celli, please push, but at the same time be 
conscious of China's limits; don't look for pears on an apple 
¶10. (C) Celli said he had met Bishop Hu of Beijing.  The two 
were accompanied by three very attentive escorts who took 
copious notes.  This seemed unnecessary, said Celli, since 
everything Hu said was essentially identical to the government 
line.  Hu may have had little choice; the larger point for Celli 
is that while the Catholic identity of older Chinese clerics can 
be taken for granted, that of younger Chinese priests is 
questionable, as the degree of their spiritual formation cannot 
be known. 
Bio Note 
¶11. (SBU) Celli opened by noting his upcoming trip to the United 
States, where he will visit Washington DC, Philadelphia, 
Memphis, and Fairfield CT among other stops -- meeting old 
friends like Cardinals McCarrick and Rigali, and George Weigel, 
and leading a retreat. The retreat will be for a group called 
Centesimus Annus (the title of a 1991 encyclical of Pope John 
Paul II, commemorating the centennial of Pope Leo XIII's 
influential encyclical Rerum Novarum) which is dedicated to the 
study and promotion of Catholic social teaching.   Celli, in 
offering to give the embassy some documents related to an 
earlier meeting this summer which discussed world financial 
problems, commented that Cardinal Bertone, in his recent remarks 
on international financial institutions and usurious practices, 
was perhaps speaking a bit too much off the cuff. 
VATICAN 00000185  003.2 OF 003 
¶12. (C) We once again found Celli an acute interlocutor.  His 
overall assessment of conditions for Chinese Catholics is hardly 
rosy, but his confidence in Beijing's openness to dialogue is 
encouraging.  Celli's optimism stands in contrast to the 
downbeat views of the foreign minister, with whom we spoke 
shortly after the visit (ref a).  We will be alert for any signs 
of a return visit later this year. 
¶13. (C) Celli's comments about the overly talkative Hong Kong 
community may refer to Cardinal Zen himself, who spoke openly 
about the July visit at the time, and is known for his direct 
manner and independence.  Celli effectively conveyed the 
complexity of the Holy See's relationship with China:  the 
machinations of hardliners on both sides, bureacratic 
maneuverings and face-saving compulsions, secret meetings made 
embarrassingly public by one's own side, officials who say one 
thing in private and something completely different in public, 
¶14. (C) Celli's remarks about the US role echo what we've heard 
from the Foreign Ministry, and dovetail with the Holy See's own 
dilemma in pushing the Chinese to grant more freedoms while 
acknowledging that a fearful Chinese leadership may itself not 
be able to grant such freedoms for now.  In speaking about the 
release of Bishop An, Celli did not seem to attach special 
significance to it.