This file photo taken on May 24, 2015, shows worshippers reading from the Bible as they celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, at the "underground" Zhongxin Bridge Catholic Church in Tianjin. A secretive 2018 two-year agreement between Beijing and the Vatican was renewed on Oct. 22, despite warnings from underground Chinese priests loyal to Rome that they have only become more marginalized since it was signed. (Greg Baker / AFP)
The Vatican has renewed its secret deal with China on bishops' appointments for another two years, with an aim to unify the divided Catholic Church in China.
The two parties have "agreed to extend the experimental implementation phase of the Provisional Agreement for another two years," said an official communique from the Vatican on Oct. 22.
The agreement, pieced together two years ago, primarily aims to end China's communist government directly appointing Catholic bishops without papal recognition.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said on Oct. 21 that the pact would become live without any new signatures because it was a provisional deal.
The details of the pact continue to remain secret, but the Vatican said the agreement wants to empower the pope to have the final say over Chinese bishops' appointment.
The Vatican has been criticized for renewing the highly secretive deal by conservative Catholics in China, who alleged that the Vatican has sold out to the communist government. The agreement only helped the Chinese government further oppress the underground church, they say.
But Cardinal Parolin, who has been pushing the deal, denied such allegations while speaking at the function at Pontifical Antonianum University on Oct 21."We hope that the Church in China can rediscover, thanks to this accord, its unity and that through this unity it can become an instrument to spread the gospel in Chinese society and work to help see authentic development for all the country's people," Cardinal Parolin said.
"As far as the accord is concerned, we are content. There are still many other problems, but we never expected the accord to resolve all the problems," he said.
China's Catholic community remains split into two groups – the open Church managed by the state and the underground church that refuses to accept the state control.
Many believe the agreement could lead the Vatican to start diplomatic ties with Beijing, severed seven decades ago.
However, Cardinal Parolin brushed aside such speculations. "For now, we are not talking about diplomatic relations," the cardinal said.
He said the Vatican is not meant to address political issues. Chinese Catholics' pastoral needs are the agreement's prime concern. "We are concentrated on the Church," he said.
Cardinal Parolin said the content of the agreement would remain secret. But it is a "relative secret" because "much of the content is already known," he said.
The Vatican officials "are pleased" about the agreement's outcome in the past two years. "We hope that there will be improvements regarding the functioning of the terms of the Agreement," he expressed hope.
The agreement was renewed without any "any changes or additions" to the text, a Vatican source told UCA News.
The agreement does not demand the Vatican to remain silent on ongoing human rights issues in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, he added.