China, Vatican Indicate Signs Of Thawing Relations

Pope Francis
China and Vatican are reportedly close in signing a landmark deal that will allow both parties to compromise in making important religious decision in Beijing.
(Photo: REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

China and the Vatican are reportedly preparing to sign a landmark deal on religious matters this month according to an exclusive report from The Wall Street Journal. People familiar with the controversial move said the deal will allow both sides to have a voice on important decisions concerning Catholic churches in Beijing.

Specifically, the deal will have Pope Francis recognize Chinese bishops who did not undergo canonical approval from the Vatican. On the other hand, China will acknowledge the Pope as leader of the Chinese Catholics and will now permit the Vatican to decide on bishop appointments.

While others may say this is a surprising move from the Vatican that might endanger its separation from any governments, others believed it is a positive sign that China is finally ready to embrace religious autonomy.

China had broken off its diplomatic ties with the Vatican since 1951.

In June, Pope Francis said planned discussions with China are at a good point. In an interview with local media, he said he was optimistic about the outcome of preliminary normalization talks with Beijing. His Holiness said entering a discussion with China regarding religion is a risk he is willing to risk than merely accepting defeat without trying to achieve a common ground. The pope, however, did not confirm when involved parties are planning to conclude the dialogues.

The Wall Street Journal reported the Vatican is hoping to sign the deal in the spring. The landmark deal, however, is still faced with various and significant issues that needed solving.

There are approximately 10 million Catholics in China who were allowed to do their worships in churches approved by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The latter is state-owned and not recognized by the Vatican. With this, many Catholics preferred attending underground churches headed by bishops who were recognized by the Vatican. This is where the strongest conflict could arise.

Sources told the Journal that some Chinese Catholics resist possible reshuffle regarding their bishops. Two bishops who were not recognized under the state-owned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association may refuse being replaced by bishops that the government will appoint following the finalization of the deal. The two bishops may be the first ones to be asked by the Vatican to compromise. On the other hand, the Chinese government may be asked by the Vatican to recognize one underground bishop.

On top of these special cases, China and Vatican may have to find resolution regarding more than 30 bishops recognized by Rome but not by Beijing, the Journal said.

© 2018 Business Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.