The Vatican reached a breakthrough in negotiations with China by acquiescing to Beijing’s demands to recognize eight bishops appointed by the country’s communist government.
Chinese and Vatican officials announced Saturday that they had signed a “provisional agreement” to the effect that the Vatican would recognize eight bishops appointed by China’s communist government without papal approval and that all of China’s bishops would now be considered in full communion with the church. The Vatican issued a statement concerning the agreement, saying it was meant to foster conditions of greater collaboration between Beijing and the Vatican, but Chinese Catholics are divided over the agreement and some have harshly criticized it as a capitulation to China. (RELATED: China Goes Digital In Crackdown On Religion, Online Religious Instructors Forced To Register And Qualify As ‘Politically Reliable’)
“Pope Francis hopes that, with these decisions, a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics,” the Vatican statement reads, according to The Associated Press.
Negotiations between the church and China previously included the prospect of China’s recognition of nearly 40 bishops of the country’s underground Catholic Church, which refuses to bend the knee to the Communist Party run Patriotic Association, which governs state-regulated Catholic churches. The Vatican and Beijing originally discussed this as a trade-off for the Vatican’s recognition of Beijing appointed bishops, but no mention of the underground bishops was made in the provisional agreement.
Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen lashed out at the deal and called for the resignation of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin for his “incredible betrayal” of China’s faithful Catholics.
“What is the message this communique conveys to the faithful in China? ‘Trust us! Accept the agreement!,'” Zen wrote, according to AP. Zen said the message was simply the Chinese government’s way of saying, “Obey us! We are in agreement with your pope!”
Father Bernard Cevellera, head of Asia News, said that faithful Chinese Catholics have mixed feelings about the provisional agreement, as they wanted cooperation between the Vatican and China, but also wanted recognition for those who serve the underground church.
“They say that it forgets the underground Christians,” Cevellera told Crux Now.
Cevellera also noted that, because the agreement is provisional, it is not set in stone. It requires the approval of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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