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Vatican pushes for working group in search for China deal

Frequency of meetings is gathering pace despite anti-Western push by the Communist Party for Chinese Christianity
Vatican pushes for working group in search for China deal

A Vatican delegation met with Chinese officials in Beijing in late April. (Photo by ucanews.com reporter)

Published: May 13, 2016 02:58 AM GMT
Updated: May 16, 2016 03:10 AM GMT

The Vatican held a second meeting with Chinese Communist Party officials this year, just days after Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out his blueprint on religious management during the National Conference on Religious Work held April 22-23.

The closed-door negotiation was believed to have taken place in Beijing the last week of April, according to sources in Beijing, Hong Kong and Rome.

While few details have been made available from the summit on religion — the first in 15 years — it appears China may tighten its control on religious life in different aspects in the name of "sinicization."

Pope Francis has made it clear that pursuing a rapprochement with China is a key priority for his papacy, leading the Vatican to resume dialogue with China in June 2014. Subsequent talks took place last Oct. 11-16 and Jan. 25-26.

"I find it remarkable that so soon after the last round of negotiations in January, this second round took place," said a source who asked not to be named and who confirmed the latest meeting.

Another church source, who asked to not be named, told ucanews.com that the Vatican would not be rushed in the difficult search for an accord, but instead proposed to organize a working group so that both sides can study thorny issues one by one.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also acknowledged to San Francesco magazine in early May that the dialogue between China and the Vatican "is a long path, which has known both highs and lows. It is not over yet and it will finish when God wants it to."

"Right now we are in a positive phase, there are signs that the two parties have the will to pursue a dialogue and to work together to find solutions to the problem of the presence of the Catholic Church in this huge country," said Cardinal Parolin, who was formerly the chief negotiator on China-Vatican negotiation until 2009.

One of the issues to study is if some of the eight illicit Chinese bishops who were ordained without papal mandate could be pardoned first, said the second source.

Some church people outside China have been trying to help reconciliation of the illicit bishops with the Vatican, including a pilgrimage by two illicit bishops to the United States to seek reconciliation with the universal church in September, at the same time Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping were visiting the country.

A Chinese researcher who asked not to be named anticipates that the Vatican would more likely want to pardon illicit Bishops Joseph Ma Yinlin and Joseph Guo Jincai, who serve in the key roles as president and secretary-general of the government-sanctioned bishops' conference, which is not recognized by the Vatican.

However, the researcher said that even with the working group, it will be difficult to narrow differences as Beijing would like the Vatican to pardon all eight illicit bishops while the Vatican hopes Beijing could approve the some 20 bishops it has appointed but are still pending for open ordinations.

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 13 with additional information.

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