China, Vatican sign historic deal on bishops appointment

BEIJING – Pope Francis has recognized seven bishops appointed by China as part of a historic accord to improve ties between the Holy See and the communist country, the Vatican said in a statement.

Beijing and the Vatican have also signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao and Antoine Camilleri, head of a Vatican delegation and the Under-Secretary for Relations with States, held talks and signed the agreement in the Chinese capital on Saturday.

An eighth bishop, who died last year, was also posthumously recognized by the Vatican.

The issue of who appoints bishops has been at the heart of a dispute since China first broke off diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951.

Pope Francis hopes the deal “will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome” and bring about full Catholic unity in China, the Vatican said.

Beijing has long insisted that the state must approve the appointment of bishops in China, running contrary to the Catholic Church’s insistence that it is a papal decision.

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

It is thought in future bishops will be proposed by the Chinese authorities and then approved by the Pope.

The Vatican described it as “the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement”, which had followed a “long process of careful negotiation” and would allow for periodic reviews.

China has some 10 million Catholics.