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China, Vatican reportedly near deal on recognition of bishops

October 31, 2016

The Vatican and the Chinese government are close to an agreement that would allow for the appointment of new Catholic bishops recognized by both parties, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Wall Street Journal account, negotiations have yielded a compromise agreement, which has been submitted to Pope Francis for his approval. The accord would also require approval from top officials in Beijing.

The Journal story essentially supports an earlier report from the Reuters news agency, which said that negotiators were nearing an agreement. Both stories said that under the proposed agreement, the Vatican would recognize eight bishops who have been installed by the Beijing regime without approval from the Holy See. Ordinarily, ordaining a bishop without Vatican approval is an offense that incurs the penalty of excommunication, and three of the Chinese bishops in question have been explicitly excommunicated. Thus the acceptance of these bishops would be a considerable concession by the Holy See.

Regarding future episcopal appointments, the agreement would reportedly call for Chinese officials to submit a list of candidates, from which the Vatican would select the new bishop. In this way the Vatican could maintain its stand that the Pope alone has the authority to name bishops, while the Beijing regime could effectively control the possible appointments.

The tenative agreement, according to both Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, does not resolve vexed questions about the status of “underground” Catholic bishops, who are often subject to harassment and arrest. If the reports are accurate, and the agreement is approved by Pope Francis, it will likely provoke angry protests from “underground” Catholics in China.


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