Cardinal Joseph Zen said Thursday that he will not try to mediate the dispute. In a carefully worded statement, Hong Kong's most senior Catholic cleric indicated the obstacle was Beijing's insistence that Chinese officials - not the Vatican - have the authority to name and approve bishops in China.
Cardinal Zen says China's position "would do no good at all to the country, and would not be accepted by the majority of the clergy and the faithful."
Zen, who was born in Shanghai, said he loves his country as much as his church, and he hopes the problem can be resolved in a way that guarantees "genuine religious freedom."
China and the Vatican broke off diplomatic ties more than 50 years ago, after the Communist revolution on the mainland, and China established a government-controlled church that pledges its loyalty to the state rather than the pope. Both sides have spoken recently of their desire to improve relations, but China's recent unilateral appointment of two bishops has widened their differences.
The Vatican criticized China earlier this week for moving ahead on the bishops' appointment without consulting church leaders. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official who met with reporters in Hong Kong Wednesday said the Vatican should refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs and sever its relations with Taiwan if it expects to achieve harmonious ties with Beijing.
The Chinese diplomat, Lu Xinhua, also suggested that Cardinal Zen should play a role in the dispute.
The state-run newspaper China Daily quotes Lu as saying the cardinal should first "understand correctly and comprehensively the central government's policies on the establishment of Sino-Vatican relations," then convey those policies "unmistakably" to the Vatican.
"Zen should try to convince the Vatican to respect and accept China's stance on the issue," Lu said.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.