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Catholic Church

Compromise best on Beijing and Vatican ties

After nearly 70 years, agreement appears near on the appointment of bishops, and an accord between state-backed and underground churches on the mainland would also end an unchristian division

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 3:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 3:22am

The road to better relations between Beijing and the Vatican remains tortuous nearly 70 years after formal ties were severed. Yet the prospect of the twists and turns finally being straightened out seems brighter than ever, judging by the tone of reaction from both sides to unofficial reports of their latest talks. Vatican sources told Reuters a framework accord including provision for the Vatican to have a say in the appointment of new bishops could be signed within months.

Beijing did not confirm this, but said it had made relentless, sincere efforts to improve ties with the Vatican and talks had been smooth and effective.

Beijing has made ‘relentless efforts’ to improve ties with Vatican

The right to appoint bishops has been a key obstacle to progress towards reconciling the state-backed and underground churches. Under Pope Francis there have been tentative initiatives to launch a more constructive dialogue. One suggestion has been that Beijing would have the say on the choice of bishops but the Vatican would have the final right of appointment.

It is not clear whether any connection should be drawn between reports of an accord and the request by the Vatican to two bishops of the underground church to make way for Beijing-approved replacements. But this has raised speculation as to whether the Holy See may be paving the way to normalise ties with Beijing and end its formal relations with Taiwan.

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Religious affairs observers on the mainland say Beijing’s response indicates it has reached an agreement it could live with on the appointment of bishops. A deal would also further isolate Taiwan, a process that has accelerated since the leader of the island’s government, Tsai Ing-wen, stopped sort of endorsing the one-China principle. The Vatican is now the only European state that maintains formal diplomatic relations with the self-ruled island.

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An accord between the two churches on the mainland – one state-backed and the other operating underground – would be good for followers of both. Many are confused by the division and do not want to get into the politics of it. Ultimately it is about their faith and being able to worship openly in communion with the same church. A compromise that ends this unchristian division has to be welcome.