The Holy See has always distinguished between the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Catholics and their bishops on the mainland, which whom it has, on separate occasions, maintained a strong bond with the underground Catholic community. Pope John Paul II in July 1991 stated, "With what prayerful longing and love do I follow the life of the loyal Chinese Catholic communities?" Again, in September 1994, he noted that "The great majority of Chinese Catholics, precisely in order to live this fidelity in fullness, have chosen the path of suffering and silence. With deep affection, our hearts turn to these brothers and sisters of ours who suffer great hardship, thankful for their generous and heroic example." And Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter of 27 May 2007 to "the Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China", in order "to convey to all of you the expression of my fraternal closeness. With intense joy I acknowledge your faithfulness to Christ the Lord and to the Church, a faithfulness that you have manifested "sometimes at the price of grave sufferings". In that letter he declared that, of the mainland bishops, only "a very small number ... have not asked for, or have not yet obtained, the necessary legitimation".
Viewing Taiwan as, at least in theory, not a separate country, its Episcopal Conference is described as a "regional", not a "national" conference.