- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

BEIJING — Chinese officials have expressed interest in the role of religion in improving society, the archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday at the end of the first trip to China in 12 years by a leader of the Church of England.

The Anglican Communion will expand efforts to help the state-sanctioned Protestant church train clergy, as communist leaders look to religion to help stabilize society during a time of wrenching change and explosive growth in Christianity in China, Archbishop Rowan Williams said.

His two-week visit also highlighted Anglicans’ limited but longtime ties to China, in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church’s lack of relations with Beijing.

Chinese officials discussed the role of religion in “building a harmonious society,” said Archbishop Williams, referring to the Communist Party phrase for efforts to spread prosperity and ease tensions over the gap between China’s rich and poor.

One senior official talked about “the potential significance of Christian Sunday schools in backing up the growth of a mature and stable public morality,” Archbishop Williams said at a press conference.

The Church of England and China’s Protestant church agreed to work toward having Anglican theologians teach in China and Chinese seminarians study abroad, said Archbishop Williams. He said they discussed foreign help to expand Chinese seminary libraries and to train religious scholars.

Archbishop Williams avoided open criticism of Beijing’s controls on religious activity, but said the government could explain its rules more clearly so the faithful know what is permitted.

“I think there is a remarkable amount of freedom of initiative for a number of religious groups,” he said. “We’re content to work with a church which we see to be lively and active and capable of taking initiative.”

Archbishop Williams said he asked Chinese officials about six Protestant and Catholic church members who he said were jailed or harassed for religious activity. He said the officials asked him to submit more details and had not replied.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a religious-freedom group that monitors the detention of priests and members of unregistered churches in China, said the archbishop did not meet the real church.

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