A leading Chinese politician has told the country’s Catholics to promote socialism and keep their distance from Rome.

Speaking after a meeting with China’s state-approved official Church, Yu Zhengsheng said churches should conform themselves to “socialism with Chinese characteristics” – that is, the model of authoritarian rule and economic liberalisation which China’s Communist Party has developed.

Mr Yu is one of seven members of China’s Politburo standing committee, which is in effect China’s highest ruling body.

China has recently been in talks with the Holy See over a possible diplomatic deal. The two states do not have diplomatic relations, but under Pope Francis the Vatican hopes to find a compromise.

Mr Yu’s speech suggested that Beijing would not back down on its wish for a close hold on Catholicism. “The Church should adhere to the principles of self-administration,” he said, “run religious affairs independently and guide believers to adhere to the Sinicisation path of the religion.” About half of China’s Catholics belong to the state-approved official Church, while the rest are part of the “underground Church”.

Some of the official Church’s bishops have been excommunicated. One, Lei Shiyin, took part in a consecration of two bishops last week. Although the Vatican had approved the new bishops, it condemned Lei’s presence, which it said had created “turmoil among Chinese Catholics.”

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