WASHINGTON (June 18, 1998) -- Religious liberty should be "at the very heart" of President Clinton's upcoming discussions with the leaders of China, according to two U.S. Bishops in letters to the Administration.
"I trust that you will impress upon the Chinese leadership the fact that amicable relations with this country, a nation founded on the principles of religious freedom and tolerance, will depend very significantly on their ability to leave behind a shameful past of religious persecution," said Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter to President Clinton.
Bishop Pilla, of Cleveland, called religious liberty "the cornerstone" of fundamental human rights.
In a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark (NJ) reinforced Bishop Pilla's call and asked that the issue of religious freedom "be placed at the very heart of the human rights discussions that I know you will have."
Archbishop McCarrick, who chairs the Bishops' International Policy Committee, was one of three U.S. religious leaders to visit China earlier this year at the invitation of China's President Jiang Zemin.
"The Chinese authorities need to understand that the vast majority of China's growing numbers of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, are good and loyal citizens who seek to contribute to the well-being of their society, and ask only the freedom to express their religious beliefs free of government interference, restraint or repression," Archbishop McCarrick said.
Both Bishops were critical of China's treatment of religious liberty, labeling the nation's history a "sorry record of intolerance and persecution" and "a serious blot on the image of that government."
President Clinton is scheduled to travel to China for summit meetings with Chinese leaders later this month.
Archbishop McCarrick noted that one step toward progress in the area of religious liberty would be the beginning of substantive dialogue with the Holy See on normalizing relations between the Vatican and China.
"Full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing may be well down the road, but the presence of a Vatican representative who could dialogue with China's senior leadership could be of enormous help in reducing tensions and increasing mutual understanding," he told Secretary Albright.