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Further complicating matters is the death, announced yesterday, of Michael Fu Tieshan, the archbishop of Beijing in the state-approved Patriotic Association, and the latter's national president. Fu was 75 and, according to AsiaNews, will receive a funeral "fit for a head of state" -- but without a representative of the Holy See in attendance.
The archbishop's passing creates a major strategic opening at the helm of the country's publicly-sanctioned Catholic community, which counts 5 million members; an illegal "underground" church, which has maintained its fidelity to Rome, is said to number twice that. In the past, Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB of Hong Kong -- Benedict's trusted counsel on things Chinese -- has noted that despite being chosen and ordained by the state church, the lion's share of "official" bishops have quietly been recognised by the Holy See.
To date, the Vatican has issued no public response to Fu's death.
PHOTO: Reuters/Andrew Wong