Catholic Culture Overview
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Holy See, China reach accord on appointment of bishops

September 22, 2018

The Vatican has signed an agreement with China, giving the Beijing government a role in the appointment of new bishops.

Although the terms of the accord were not made public, informed sources at the Vatican have confirmed that under the agreement, the Beijing government will name candidates for episcopal office, with the Pope allowed a choice from among the government’s nominees.

In announcing the agreement on September 22, the Vatican said that the agreement is “provisional” and “foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application.”

In a statement explaining the accord—recorded in English, in a departure from his usual pattern—the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, stressed that “the objective of the Holy See is a pastoral one: the Holy See intends just to create the condition, or help to create the condition, of a greater freedom, autonomy, and organization” for the Catholic Church in China.

Proponents of the accord have argued that it will ease restrictions on the Church in China. Opponents have disagreed, reasoning that by giving greater power to the Beijing government, the agreement will ultimately put greater pressure on the “underground” Church that has resisted government intrusions. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, said angrily that Cardinal Parolin should resign from office because of his “betrayal” of China’s faithful Catholics.

In his statement Cardinal Parolin observed that the accord could bring unity to the Chinese Church. He said: “For the first time in decades, today all the bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome.” That is true because in making the deal, Pope Francis agreed to lift the excommunication incurred by bishops who had been installed by the Beijing government without approval from the Holy See. Also, as part of the accord, the Vatican persuaded two bishops of the “underground” Church, who had not been recognized by Beijing, to resign and be replaced by government-approved prelates.

Greg Burke, the director of the Vatican press office, also emphasized that the goal of the September 22 agreement “is not political but pastoral.” The accord does not address the possibility of establishing formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Chinese government. However, the Vatican announcement of the pact noted that it “creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level.”

The provisional agreement was signed on September 22 by Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican’s undersecretary for relations with states, and Wang Chao, China’s depute foreign minister.”

“This is not the end of a process; it’s the beginning,” noted Burke, the Vatican spokesman.


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  • Posted by: aprolifer - Sep. 24, 2018 6:45 PM ET USA

    "months ago in an interview, Pope Francis said that "dialogue is a risk, but I prefer the uncertain risk to the defeat of not talking". It is therefore better to start a dialogue with an unreliable interlocutor, than to remain still." Is the Church (in the person of the Vatican) changing a centuries-old teaching? Do we now dialogue with satan instead of turning our backs on him and PRAYING for help?

  • Posted by: aprolifer - Sep. 24, 2018 6:23 PM ET USA

    Is it the Vatican is dumber than the average American Catholic, or they are trying, under cover of "diplomacy", to take down the Chinese underground Catholic church? I can't see any other alternative.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 22, 2018 4:47 PM ET USA

    Why does it seem that so many "pastoral" pacts these days end up by accommodating objective evil? Is it pastoral to force the resignation of loyal and faithful Catholic prelates? Or is it political? Does "pastoral" = "political" in the current dispensation? And what about the blanket amnesty? Who wants to lay money on the reality that whatever is able to survive of the "underground" Church will go even deeper underground? As previously noted, they will go so deep that the Vatican won't find them

  • Posted by: DanS - Sep. 22, 2018 3:47 PM ET USA

    Thereby reversing two millennia of ecclesiastical struggle against temporal political structures for freedom and authority over Church affairs. I wonder what other breaks from rigid, ancient traditions the Holy Father has in mind for the Bride of Christ?!

  • Posted by: Jim Hanink - Sep. 22, 2018 12:22 PM ET USA

    "It's not the end of a process, it's the beginning." But the beginning flies in the face of the Chinese government's oppression of religious groups and its ongoing violation of the rights of its own people. Unless Vatican diplomats address these realities they are whistling in the wind.

  • Posted by: Archpriest - Sep. 22, 2018 11:22 AM ET USA

    More "marxist liberation garbology" from what has sadly become a mere branch office of Beijing's communist values. "And Jesus wept..."

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Sep. 22, 2018 11:09 AM ET USA

    The Pope has rolled over on this one. Nobody should trust the Chinese communists, especially when it comes to religion. Their government is all about control, and that means stifling the witness of the Church against injustice. This deal will soon come to be nothing but a bad deal.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 22, 2018 10:59 AM ET USA

    As usual, the changes orchestrated by the Pope and his cronies don't hurt them it just puts the rest of the church at risk. In this case, if the underground Church does as the pope desires, they will all be out in the open and known, where they can be eliminated at will by the Comu7nist government. We need to pray for the faithful Catholics.