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China, Vatican near agreement on appointment of bishops?

October 21, 2016

The Vatican is close to an agreement with Beijing that would include recognition of four bishops who have been illicitly ordained, according to the Reuters news agency.

The Vatican has declined to comment on the report. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry would only say: “We are willing to work hard with the Vatican and meet each other halfway.”

Rumors of an imminent agreement between the Holy See and the Chinese government, governing the appointment and recognition of bishops, have circled widely in Rome in recent weeks. Reuters now reports that an accord will be announced before the end of this month.

According to Reuters, the agreement will allow for the ordination of two new bishops this year, with the approval of both Rome and Beijing.

A more controversial aspect of the agreement, according to Reuters, will be the Vatican’s approval of four bishops who were appointed by Beijing and ordained without approval from the Holy See. Until now these bishops have been subject to excommunication: the ordinary penalty for an involvement in an episcopal ordination without a mandate from the Vatican.

Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Vatican has redoubled efforts to reach an agreement with China, in order to allow for the normalization of Church pastoral work and to ease divisions between the “official” Catholic Church that has government approval and the “underground” Church that has maintained its loyalty to Rome. However, according to the Reuters report, the draft agreement does not resolve the status of the “underground” bishops who are recognized by the Holy See but not by the government, and have been subject to official harassment and arrest for “illegal” religious activities.

The key issue in dispute between the Vatican and Beijing has been the appointment of bishops. Many of the “official” bishops appointed by Chinese officials have sought and received Vatican recognition. But the Holy See has refused to yield to Beijing’s demand that bishops be named by the government-backed Catholic Patriotic Association.

The new accord, Reuters says, provides for bishops to be selected by local clergy, with the Pope making the final choice among proposed candidates. The Vatican would retain the power to reject a candidate on moral grounds. That provision would respond to Vatican concerns about “official” bishops who have maintained relations with women and fathered children.

An agreement between the Holy See and the Beijing government would allow for the appointment of new bishops in many dioceses that are currently without episcopal leadership. The accord described by Reuters, however, would raise serious questions about the fate of the “underground” Church.

 
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