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'Historic' Sino-Vatican deal set to be signed

Pope will have final say on appointment of bishops in China in agreement due to be sealed in September
'Historic' Sino-Vatican deal set to be signed

A Chinese Mary and Jesus are seen in a church in Henan province on Aug. 14. The Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is scheduled to be signed in September. (Photo by Pak Yiu/AFP)

Published: September 19, 2018 10:36 AM GMT
Updated: September 19, 2018 10:36 AM GMT

The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September.

A Vatican source told America — The Jesuit Review that the deal is due to be signed in Beijing before the end of September but the report said the text of the agreement will not be made public even after the signing.

A high-level Holy See delegation will travel to Beijing for the signing in "a historic breakthrough," said the Sept. 18 report.

The source said the agreement is provisional and although the Holy See recognized it is not a good one, it is the only possible way to open "the door to developing constructive and improving dialogue with the world's emerging superpower." 

According to the report, the agreement only deals with the nomination of bishops. Candidates will be chosen at diocesan level through the democratic election system, and the results of these elections will be sent to Beijing authorities to examine and then submit a name via diplomatic channels to the Holy See.

The Holy See will carry out its own investigation of the candidate before the pope either approves or exercises his veto, the report said.

The report said that if the pope approves the candidate, the process will continue. If not, "both sides will engage in a dialogue, and Beijing would eventually be expected to submit the name of another candidate."

The pope will have the final word on the appointment of bishops in China, the report said.

The report also said that "the Holy See, in response to the demands of Beijing, confirmed that Pope Francis would recognize the seven illegitimate Chinese bishops."

The seven so-called illicit bishops, not named by the pope, are Liu Xinhong of Anhui and Lei Shiyin of Leshan, who are both alleged to have girlfriends, as well as Huang Bingzhan of Shantou, Zhan Silu of Mindong, Yue Fusheng of Heilongjiang, Ma Yinglin of Kunming and Guo Jincai of Chengde.

Lei, Yue, and Huang had been excommunicated. All seven had previously asked for reconciliation with the pope.

"The pope's decision to recognize the seven was well received by Chinese authorities; it opened the path to Beijing's willingness to sign the agreement with the Holy See. That decision, taken at the highest levels, was communicated to the Vatican just over two weeks ago," the report said.

Many Catholics on the mainland said that they believed it would be a two-year interim agreement.

An open church priest expressed support for the agreement as the Holy See could directly convey information and directly manage clerics in China so that the mainland church can be standardized and normalized.

But an underground church Catholic told ucanews.com that the agreement only reached a consensus on the appointment of bishops but would not help to alleviate China's suppression of religion.

A source in Sichuan province told ucanews.com that the church surely would give in and choose the lesser of two evils. He believed that the sanction of illegitimate bishops "is the privilege of the pope and we could only reluctantly obey."

A researcher told ucanews.com that the agreement is clearly in conflict with Article 36 of the Chinese constitution which stipulates that religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

The researcher also said that the agreement contradicts the Sinicization of religions promoted by President Xi Jinping. "It instead tells everyone that Sinicization is only a joke."

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, an emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg News Network that the agreement is a "plot" that would bring tragic and long-term consequences not only to the Catholic Church in China but also to the entire church.

He also said the agreement could clear a hurdle for establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing but may incur a schism among the local faithful.

America reported that at the end of December 2017, there were 65 bishops of the open church community recognized by Chinese authorities and 36 of the underground community who do not have official recognition. Some have since died.

The report said there were still many questions including the situation of underground bishops and their communities; the status of the Chinese bishops' conference (not recognized by Rome because only Beijing-approved bishops belong to it); the number of dioceses in China (the Vatican claims there are 144, including 32 vicariates or prefectures, while Beijing insists there are 96); and the possibility for Chinese bishops to freely visit the Holy See and for Vatican officials to visit them.

The Holy See hopes to convince Beijing to bypass the requirement imposed on underground bishops to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and to open other ways for them to gain official recognition.

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