VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican is launching a Chinese version of its website in an effort to bring more of Pope Benedict’s message to China, whose communist government does not allow Catholics to recognize his authority.
Some Church sources and diplomats said they feared the site could be blocked by Chinese authorities, as has been the fate of other websites.
The Vatican said on Monday the Chinese version of the website www.vatican.va will be launched on Thursday. It already has versions in seven other languages.
The pope’s speeches and other content will be available in both traditional and simplified Chinese characters.
China’s communist government does not allow its Catholics to recognize the Pope’s authority and forces them to be members of a state-backed Catholic organization.
China’s 8 million to 12 million Catholics are split between the officially approved church and an “underground” one loyal to the Pope.
While the Vatican statement said it hoped the site would be used by “Internet users from throughout the world,” Church sources and diplomats said they feared the site would be blocked.
“As long as the website does not post anything the government objects to, it will be OK,” said Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of Asia News, a web-based religious news agency that specializes on China.
“But once they start talking about the nomination of bishops or Tibet or the Dalai Lama, it will be blocked just as ours has been quite often,” Cervellera told Reuters.
China regularly blocks sites it finds unsavory, particularly those critical of the Communist Party.
Access to the New York Times website and Chinese versions of the BBC, Voice of America and Hong Kong media Ming Pao News and Asiaweek have been blocked in the past.
China, which eased its rein on the Internet before and during the Beijing Olympics in August, has said that it is within its rights to block websites with content illegal under Chinese law.
Beijing’s relations with the Vatican have alternated in recent years between ice and signs of thaws.
Last year a bishop from Hong Kong represented Pope Benedict at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in August and in May China’s national orchestra played for the Pope at a concert in the Vatican.
But in October, China denied permission for Catholic bishops to travel to Rome for a Church meeting.
Benedict has made improving relations with China a main goal of his pontificate and hopes diplomatic ties can be restored.
China says before restoring ties, broken off two years after the 1949 Communist takeover, the Vatican must sever relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.