Appointment of Bishops Agreement Reached by China and Vatican

The pope from now on will recognize Chinese bishops appointed by the powers in Beijing sans the approval of the Vatican.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Holy See resolved decades of tensions and signed what is termed as a “provisional agreement” concerning bishop appointments. The deal was formally signed by foreign ministers of both sides. In this deal, the Vatican gains the rights to have some say in the naming of bishops. The agreement provides Pope Francis veto power in the appointment of candidates. The deal took quite a while to materialize as Beijing has long insisted it must be consulted on the appointments of Chinese bishops. This insistence was a deadlock in relations between China and the Vatican.

Beijing described the agreement as “the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement” after a lengthy process of negotiation. The agreement will be subject to reviews at predetermined intervals. The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement saying Beijing and the Holy See will continue to maintain their mutual communications. They will also push forward the all-important process of improving relations between the two sides. The Vatican, in its statement, said the Holy See will now exert its influence over bishop nominations, an important event in church life, and creates the ideal conditions leading to greater collaboration.

Critics, however, used strong words to describe the deal. To them, the Vatican has sold itself out to communist Beijing. Cardinal Joseph Zen, who once held the post of Hong Kong archbishop, described the inked documents as a path to send Chinese Christians metaphorically to the wolf’s mouth. Zen has spearheaded the protests held to oppose such a deal. He lamented that the consequences will last longer than anyone has envisaged and will have a tragic ending. He pointed out that the deal affects not only the Chinese unit of the Catholic church but also the Catholic religion as a whole.

According to the Vatican, the pope from now on will recognize Chinese bishops appointed by the powers in Beijing sans the approval of the Vatican. The pope has previously excommunicated them, terming them illegitimate. The accord provides the Vatican some say in bishop naming, and the pope now enjoys veto powers over any candidate appointment.

Catholics in China are a divided lot. Most Chinese Catholics follow the diktats of the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, and a few are loyal to underground churches who have sworn their loyalty to the Holy See.

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