Saying “we must walk patiently in China,” Pope Francis views continued dialogue with Beijing as the guiding principle in his efforts to safeguard his flock, who are a small minority in the Asian nation.
The AP asked what comes next in the diplomatic overtures between the countries.
“We are taking steps,” Francis replied. “Each case (of a bishop's nomination) is looked at with a magnifying lens.” The pontiff added that “that's the main thing, the dialogue doesn't break.”
As for Chinese authorities, “sometimes they are a little closed, sometimes not,” Francis said.
The pope sidestepped a question about how the Vatican's relationship with Taiwan affects the dialogue. The Holy See is one of the few states to maintain formal ties with Taiwan instead of with China.
Francis has been criticized by more conservative factions of the Catholic Church for a 2018 agreement with Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China, given how that country's Communist authorities have at times imprisoned priests. Among his harshest critics is Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
In the interview, Francis called Zen, who is 91, a “charming old man," and a “tender soul.” He recounted how, when the cardinal came to Rome this month for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, the pontiff invited him to the Vatican hotel where Francis lives. In front of the pope's private study is a statue depicting Our Lady of Sheshan. Francis said when the cardinal saw it, ”he began to cry, like a child."
Zen was arrested last year after he fell afoul of Hong Kong authorities over his participation in a now-silenced democracy movement.