The comments by Bishop Fu Tieshan were unusually conciliatory amid a crackdown on unofficial religious activity that coincides with attempts to crush the Falun Gong meditation group.
Communist leaders ordered Chinese Catholics in 1951 to break with Rome and declare allegiance to the state church. Believers who remain loyal to the pope in an underground church face harassment and arrest. An underground priest was sentenced to six years in prison in May for printing unauthorized Bibles.
But Fu, chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said priests of the state church occasionally meet informally with Vatican officials.
"There are some contacts between friends and individuals. For instance, the head of the church in Rome and the head of the church in China have some personal contact," Fu said.
Fu would not give any details, saying only that the officials discuss "matters of mutual interest." He said he hadn't visited Rome, but the Rev. Francis Xavier Zhang of Beijing had met Pope John Paul II.
The bishop spoke in a rare interview before he and other Chinese religious leaders leave for the U.N. Millennium World Peace Summit to be held in New York on Aug. 28-31.
Fu said the Chinese church won't consider formal contact with the Vatican while it still has diplomatic relations with rival Taiwan. China regards Taiwan, which has been ruled separately since 1949, as a rebel province, and refuses to have contact with governments that recognize the island's government.
"The Vatican first has to break relations with Taiwan," Fu said.
Vatican officials have criticized China's ordination of bishops without papal approval as a "grave violation of canon law" and an obstacle to formal ties. China ordained five bishops in February on the same day the pope elevated 12 men to the same rank.
Apparently trying to avoid the appearance of a religious schism, Fu insisted that his group was only an association, not a separate church.
He also played down differences with the underground church, saying some of its members had emerged to join the state-sanctioned church. One became a bishop, he said.
"There is only one holy, Catholic, and apostolic church," Fu said. "We pray for our pope, John Paul II, and for all the priests and bishops."
Also attending the U.N. conference are leaders of China's official Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, and Protestant clergies.
Conference organizers omitted the Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhists, from the invitation list for fear of offending China. The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since a failed 1959 uprising against communist rule, and Beijing accuses him of agitating for independence.
The Dalai Lama, who received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, declined an invitation to speak on the last day of the conference at a separate site.
The vice president of the official Buddhist Association of China defended the decision to exclude the Dalai Lama.
"No one should be allowed to wrap himself in the cloak of religion and pursue activities aimed at splitting China," said Jamyang, an ethnic Tibetan who uses one name.