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Of the long list of problems the next pope will inherit once the white smoke rises in Rome, few on the diplomatic front can rival the bitter, intractable relationship between the Vatican and the Chinese government.

The two powers have long battled for control over Catholics in China, but the situation has worsened in the past two years to the lowest point in decades. Bishops touted by the government have been excommunicated by the pope. Meanwhile, China’s government has called the Vatican “unreasonable and rude,” and stepped up its surveillance and detention of Catholics who remain loyal to the pope in illegal underground churches.

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