Vatican rules out ‘imminent’ China deal on appointing bishops
Senior cleric in China’s state-approved Catholic church said earlier this week negotiations were in the final stages
A historic deal between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops is not “imminent,” a Vatican spokesman said on Thursday, but dialogue between the two sides continues.
“I can state that there is no imminent signature of an agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, contradicting an optimistic statement from a Chinese government-approved bishop.
“I would like to stress that the Holy Father Francis remains in constant contact with his collaborators on Chinese issues and is accompanying the steps of the ongoing dialogue,” he added.
A senior Vatican source said earlier on Thursday that the Vatican still did not know precisely when a Chinese delegation was due to come to Rome.
On Thursday, Bishop Guo Jincai, secretary general of the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, was quoted by the state-owned Global Times as saying that negotiations with the Vatican had reached “the final stages”.
“If everything goes right, the deal could be signed as early as the end of this month,” said Guo, who is recognised by China’s Communist government.
The Vatican relaunched long-stalled negotiations with Beijing three years ago.
The question of whether China or the Holy See gets to designate bishops has been a major obstacle to progress.
Under a potential deal, the Vatican could agree to recognise seven bishops who were chosen by the Communist government in the hope that Beijing would accept the pope’s authority as head of the Catholic Church in China, a source close to the matter said last month.
Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic relations in 1951 and although ties have improved as China’s Catholic population grows they have remained at odds over the appointment of bishops.
China’s roughly 12 million Catholics are divided between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the atheist Communist Party, and an unofficial underground church loyal to the Vatican.
While some believe an agreement will bridge divisions between the two, others fear concessions to China may backfire on the “underground” devout, many of whom suffered years of persecution for following the pope.
The Vatican has previously accepted bishops appointed by Beijing.
Some opponents – among them the militant Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen – say an agreement risks abandoning loyal believers and amounts to a deal with the devil.
A lay Catholic in central China said the deal would “certainly” lead to “less freedom for the underground Church”.
“If the Vatican violates its conscience, the underground believers in mainland China will certainly not accept it,” she said.
An open letter issued last month by lay Catholics mostly based in Hong Kong expressed concern that the recognition of Beijing-appointed bishops would lead to “confusion and pain, and schism would be created”.
Additional reporting by Reuters