The head of Hong Kong’s Catholic Church has revealed that the Vatican and Beijing have reached an initial agreement on the appointment of Catholic bishops in mainland China in an effort to secure a breakthrough in bilateral ties. In an article published in the latest edition of the weekly diocese publication Kung Kao Po on Thursday, Cardinal John Tong Hon also dismissed criticism that Vatican officials may go against the Holy See’s principles and that the dialogue may sacrifice the rights of clandestine churches on the mainland. Vatican is taking ‘new approach to China’ Tong wrote in the more than 8,000-word article that Beijing was now willing to reach an understanding with the Vatican on the appointment of bishops in the Catholic Church in mainland China and seek a mutually acceptable plan. Under the initial agreement, the pope would choose from a list of candidates recommended by a conference comprising bishops from the open and clandestine churches. The 77-year-old cardinal said a bishops’ conference in China would only have the power of recommendation while the power of final decision would still be left to the pope. “The Apostolic See has the right to choose from the recommended list the candidates it considers as most suitable and the right to reject the candidates recommended by a bishops’ conference of China and the bishops in the provinces under it. ” Citing the “Vietnam model”, Tong said the practice of appointing bishops may be adjusted to what was feasible in the local situation. Under the model agreed by the Vatican and Hanoi in 2011, the nomination of bishops follows procedures approved by both the Vatican and the Vietnamese government. Pope sends ‘olive branch’ to China amid hopes of reconciliation with Chinese authorities The Vatican severed diplomatic ties with China in 1951, two years after the Communists came to power. Beijing oversees more than 12 million Catholics through the party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. China-Vatican relations have been strained by conflicts over the appointment of Catholic bishops and the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan. With Pope Francis’ support, China and the Vatican restarted a political dialogue in June 2014. “The agreement between the Holy See and Beijing is an example of human dialogue, the beginning of the normalisation of a mutual relationship,” Tong wrote. Tong said the pope understood that the Chinese government was concerned about the influence the Catholic bishops may have on society. “The Holy See is willing to [engage in] dialogue ... on the appointment of bishops in the church in China and to reach a mutually acceptable consensus under the premises that the principles of the Catholic faith and of ecclesial communion are not violated.” Reuters reported last month that a working group with members from both sides was set up in April and was discussing how to resolve a core disagreement over who had the authority to select and ordain bishops in China. Tong wrote that some people were concerned that the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese government may sacrifice the legitimate rights of the clandestine churches in China. “This way of thinking may indeed be an offence against the Holy See and its delegated representatives in the negotiations.” The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association did not respond to Post inquiries on Friday. In the end, Pope Francis’ ‘kowtow diplomacy’ towards China will show itself to be smart diplomacy In a blog written in December last year, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the former bishop of Hong Kong, said mainland authorities had demolished the crosses on many church buildings, and questioned if the Vatican was knowledgeable about what had been happening there. Zen also said he was worried that by signing a deal with Beijing, the church would be handing over its power to “an atheist regime”. But Anthony Lam Sui-ki, executive secretary and researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre of the Hong Kong diocese, said a deal between both sides would help solve the problems surrounding the ordination of priests in mainland China because Beijing was often worried about which priests would be ordained. “But I don’t think they can reach consensus in three to five years ... because the matter is so complicated and has not been resolved for decades,” he added.