TAIPEI�The top Vatican diplomat in Taiwan has called on Beijing to release detained underground Catholic bishops but said their detention wouldn�t affect the Pope�s desire to improve relations with Mainland China, RFA�s Mandarin service reports.

�The Pope has continuously urged the Beijing government to release detained bishops of the underground Catholic Church because the Holy Father does not believe they did anything wrong,� Msgr. Ambrose Madtha, the Holy See�s charge d�affaires in Taipei, said in an interview.

Madtha said he also hoped that the Beijing government would soon release the detained bishops and other members of the underground Catholic Church, and that all Christians�Catholic and Protestant�would help local people to keep their faith.

However, he said the Vatican had no plans to send an ambassador-level official to Taiwan. �The reason is that the Holy See wants to maintain good relations also with the People�s Republic of China,� he said. "The Pope has very often asked Taiwan to be the bridge between the Holy See and mainland China."

He said the Vatican wished to �attain results on a spiritual level� where China and Taiwan were concerned. �The Holy Father views people from both China and Taiwan equally, and it is according to that principle that the Holy See will continuously maintain good relations with both sides,� Madtha said.

China�s Communist regime tolerates strictly controlled and officially recognized Christian churches, but cracks down harshly on any unofficial religious movements with a strong popular following, fearing that they might grow powerful enough to overthrow it. It is particularly sensitive to overseas involvement in religious and human rights-related activities within Chinese borders.

No reliable figures are available on the number of Catholics in China, but those who continue their faith underground are frequently the targets of government persecution.

Police in the northern Chinese province of Hebei detained Bishop Jia Zhi Guo earlier this month without explanation, the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation said. The organization, which monitors and campaigns against Chinese persecution of Catholics, said it had been unable to establish where he had been taken. It said his arrest came a month after another underground bishop, Wei Jingyi, was detained for more than a week in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. Wei was released after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Vatican both demanded an explanation from the Chinese government.

Shanghai Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, 79, had his home searched last month by police who seized Bibles and other religious materials, the Foundation said. Fan spent more than 20 years in prison for refusing to renounce the authority of the pope over the Catholic Church in China.

In 1949, the Communist Party decreed that all religions in the country must sever ties with outside authority and pledge loyalty to official churches, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Many Catholics refused Beijing�s demands and continued to worship illegally.

On April 15, China�s Foreign Ministry repeated its official position on ties with the Vatican�that it should first break off relations with Taiwan and not �interfere in China�s internal affairs under the pretext of religion, if it wants to establish relations with China,� spokesman Kong Quan said.

Asked whether the Vatican wanted to establish diplomatic relations with China, Kong said China held a clear stance on the Vatican issue, and it was up to the Vatican to take action. The Vatican should meet the above two demands if it has the sincerity to establish relations with China, Kong said. #####


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