Vatican City Pope Benedict XVI made his most significant attempt to unite China's 12 million Catholics Saturday, urging the underground faithful and followers of the state-run church to overcome decades of animosity and distrust.
Benedict lamented the lack of religious freedoms in China and called the government-sanctioned church "incompatible" with Catholic doctrine for appointing bishops without Vatican approval. But he also said he hoped the Vatican could reach an agreement with Beijing authorities on nominations.
In an unprecedented gesture, Benedict revoked 1988 Vatican regulations that had called for limiting contact with China's official clergy and excommunicating bishops consecrated without the pope's consent.
The pope's comments came in a letter translated into five languages - including Mandarin in both traditional and simplified characters - a sign the Vatican wanted it widely read. It issued two accompanying documents highlighting key points and posted the letter on the Vatican's Web site.
Liu Bainian, the vice chairman of the state-run China Patriotic Catholic Association, said Saturday he had not seen the letter and that the church had no immediate plans to read it out to the faithful or distribute it.
Qin Gang, spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said China would "continue to have a frank, constructive dialogue with the Vatican in order to resolve differences."
China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communists took power. Worship is allowed only in government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own clergy.
But millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations that are loyal to Rome.