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Fu Tieshan, 76; head of China’s church clashed with Vatican

From Times Wire Reports

Chinese Bishop Fu Tieshan, the hard-line chairman of the state-sanctioned Catholic Church who sparred with the Vatican over China’s insistence on appointing its own bishops, has died. He was 76.

The government-backed church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Assn., refuses to recognize the Vatican’s authority, but many clergy and ordinary Catholics remain loyal to the pope and have been persecuted for it.

As the top authority of the Chinese church, Fu clashed with the Vatican over China’s right to independently appoint bishops without papal approval and the Vatican’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.

Association Vice Chairman Liu Bainian said Fu, who also used the Christian name Michael, died Friday night in a Beijing hospital of lung cancer.

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Liu said that arrangements were being made for a funeral and that there was “no time yet to think about Fu’s replacement.”

“He was a very respected leader who guided believers and priests in building up the Chinese church and worked to make it in line with our socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Liu said.

Fu was born in north China’s Hebei province in 1931 and served as a priest and later a bishop in the Beijing Catholic Diocese. He was appointed head of China’s church in 1998 and in 2003 became a vice chairman to the standing committee of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress.

Beijing made Fu a bishop in 1979, though the appointment lacked approval by the pope.

China’s ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power. Worship is allowed only in government-controlled churches, but as many as 12 million Catholics are estimated to belong to unofficial congregations in so-called house churches loyal to Rome.

The Vatican has long indicated that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with China, even at the cost of moving its embassy from Taiwan, but will not compromise on the tradition dictating that only the pope -- and not a local church -- can appoint bishops.

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing a letter, which may appear within weeks, to Chinese Catholics that will spell out his ideas for healing divisions among them.


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