ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: April 04, 2018 06:58 AM GMT
Catholics visit the Sheshan pilgrimage site in Shanghai Diocese in 2014. Many Catholics are anxious to hear whether a Vatican-China deal will be agreed. (ucanews.com photo)
Speculation that a Sino-Vatican agreement covering the appointment of bishops and other thorny issues would be reached in March have proved unfounded.
A Vatican spokesman said on the eve of Holy Thursday that no deal was imminent.
Fears of the underground Catholic Church in China that it would come under state control have eased a little, but reaching an agreement between the Vatican and Beijing has not been shelved or cancelled, only delayed until at least June.
The underground church has refused to join the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association linked to what is known as the open church.
Italian daily newspaper Corriere Della Sera reported on Feb. 19 that Pope Francis had expressed a willingness in principle to sign an agreement.
And on March 28, Guo Jincai, secretary-general of the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China, was reported as saying an agreement could soon be reached.
But he added that the exact timing depended on details and technical issues.
Guo said that as well as dealing with the appointment of bishops, he expected that the agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government would more broadly reduce future misunderstandings.
Wang Meixiu, a Beijing-based academic who researches Catholicism in China, said there needed to be a resolution of outstanding issues involving seven "illicit bishops."
There has been speculation that the pope could use his authority to grant a "pardon" in some cases to bishops previously ordained without Vatican approval.
Wang also stressed it was important whether the Holy See recognized those illicit bishops only in name or granted them the power to govern dioceses.
On March 28, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang maintained that China was sincere about wanting to improve relations with the Vatican.
A senior Vatican official told Reuters the following day that the Holy See did not know when a high-level Chinese delegation would arrive in Rome.
The Catholic Church has continued to recognize Taiwan, which has a diplomatic mission to the Holy See.
Taiwanese spokesman Andrew Lee in late March said the diplomatic mission would be maintained.
There have been no official diplomatic relations between mainland China and the Holy See since 1951.
It is yet to be seen whether the ongoing talks between the Vatican and Beijing will result in the Catholic Church granting mainland China diplomatic recognition.
China prelates and Catholics: no sign is good
Some Catholics from both the open and underground churches believe the failure to reach an agreement so far may be related to underground Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong being briefly detained by Chinese authorities.
He has refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
All bishops recognized by the Chinese government must be members of the association.
The agreement being negotiated could lead to the Vatican recognizing seven illicit bishops ordained under Chinese government auspices. There have been suggestions that the deal would give the Vatican a final say on the appointment of bishops.
Father Joseph of the underground church in northern China believes the agreement being negotiated could be tantamount to members of the underground church becoming "slaughtered lambs."
He believes the later it is signed, the better.
"Through bargaining, the agreement will be more mature and beneficial to the church," he said.
But Father Joseph told ucanews.com he is not convinced that China will sign an agreement even if the Vatican compromises further.
Beijing could balk at both constitutional implications and the difficulty of trying to manage a church that wanted to maintain a high level of independence, he said.