Beijing: Resenting Pope Benedict XVI’s accusations that China has imposed restrictions on freedom of religion, the official media on Monday said the pontiff sounded more like a "western politician" than a religious leader and asked the Vatican to alter its China policy.
"The pontiff sounded more like a Western politician than a religious leader," said Global Times, the sister publication of People`s Daily, the official organ of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).
In his Christmas message "peace and hope", Pope Benedict XVI had criticised China for "the limitations imposed on freedom of religion”.
"May the birth of the saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his church, may keep alive the flame of hope," the pope said.
Benedict`s comments came as Beijing and Vatican were locked in a war of words over appointment of leaders of Church associations in China, which Beijing argued need no approval from Vatican.
In its editorial titled `Vatican must stop interfering in China`, the newspaper said, "The Vatican is the only country in Europe that has not established official diplomatic relations with China.”
"Even though relations between the two countries have been improving in recent years, so long the Vatican refuses to cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and insists on taking back the right to appoint Catholic priests in China, it will be difficult for permanent improvements to be made."
"Benedict`s remarks are nothing new," it said.
"Chinese Catholic priests held a conference lately and elected their own leaders without the Pope`s recognition, as they have always done. This irritated the pope, who wants to lord over all Catholic believers in the world," the paper said.
It said that before the pope attacks China`s internal affairs, he should rethink the Vatican`s role as a protector of religious freedom.
"The world is changing, as are the social and political surrounds for religious belief. The Vatican has no power to control the direction and speed of the world`s changes, and it should not attempt to do so."
In recent years, the Vatican has tried several times to interfere with the Catholic conferences held in China, and even threatened to punish participating priests, it said, adding that "its stubborn entanglements with politics do not seem to fade away with time”.
Stating that Catholic churches are part of the religious life of Chinese people, the paper said, "The Vatican has to face the fact that all religious beliefs are free in China, as long as they do not run counter to the country`s laws."
"Religious belief is a personal freedom. However, every person also has an identity bound by law and their citizenship."
It said that the Vatican`s claim that religious identity goes beyond everything else is "unrealistic, and even harmful for a country composed of various ethnicities and religions”.
"What the Vatican demands from China is power, it is not about the true core of Catholic belief."
"So far, its act is not winning much support across the world. Sooner or later, Vatican will have to adjust its China policy," it added.