Vatican announces historic deal with China on bishops

Cardinal Joseph Zen wrote that the agreement would put the flock in “mouths of the wolves”

Cardinal Joseph Zen wrote that the agreement would put the flock in “mouths of the wolves”ANTHONY WALLACE GETTY IMAGES

A "Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China concerning the nomination of Bishops", signed by China and the Vatican sets out to achieve one set of Catholic Bishops approved by both parties for the first time since the 1949 revolution.

Catholics in China now face the choice of attending state-sanctioned churches approved by Beijing or worshipping in underground churches that have pledged allegiance to the Vatican.

Christian worshippers and clergy in central China told AFP recently that "illegal" churches were being raided or bulldozed, and religious materials confiscated.

"However the conflict arises that for Christians their overarching loyalty is to God and to Jesus and that comes in direct tension then with their loyalty to the party- so that's where difficulties arise". For her, the reconciliation between Beijing and the Vatican will not mean interference in the affairs of the catholic churches in the territory a semi-autonomous income in 1997 in the bosom of the chinese.

Crux's John L Allen Jr, points out that this deal has been a priority for Pope Francis: "It's been abundantly clear that it's a top priority for Francis and detractors though he might never get it".

Some Chinese Catholics have opposed such a deal, notably Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who previously called it a sell-out of Chinese Catholics who refused to join the state Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and who paid the price of remaining faithful to Rome during years of persecution.

Beijing insisted that it had the right to ordain its own bishops, defying the Holy See, which says ordinations can only go ahead with the pope's blessing.

Taiwan's foreign ministry issued a statement in response, saying, "The Holy See has reaffirmed to Taiwan that this provisional agreement is not of a political or diplomatic nature, and will not affect the diplomatic relationship that has been in place for 76 years between Taiwan and the Holy See".

Catholic communities that have refused to register with the government and refused to follow government-appointed bishops commonly are referred to as the underground church.

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The agreement also leaves unresolved the fate of some 30 so-called underground bishops recognized by the Vatican but not by China.

While Taiwan has been self-governed for nearly 70 years following the end of the Chinese civil war, Beijing considers the island to be part of its territory, a breakaway province.

The deal also did not address the fate of underground bishops faithful to the Vatican who have always been suppressed and in some cases are still being imprisoned, Ying said.

Under President Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, faithful are seeing their freedoms shrink even as the country experiences a religious revival.

The above-mentioned Provisional Agreement, which is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application. Taiwan now has formal relations with only 17 states, and the Vatican is the only one in Europe.

"The consequences will be tragic and long lasting, not only for the church in China but for the whole church because it damages the credibility".

Although the terms of the accord have not been made public, informed sources at the Vatican have confirmed that under the agreement, the Beijing government will name candidates for episcopal office, with the Pope allowed a choice from among the government's nominees.

In Beijing, Zhang Ye, a 31-year-old Catholic leaving church after a Saturday evening Mass, said the Vatican couldn't afford to ignore the importance of China and the growing number of believers in the country.

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