The Holy See renewed a 2018 agreement with Beijing on Thursday agreeing to split authority on nominating bishops to the Catholic Church in China.
The agreement has never been published, and its details remain secret to all but the Vatican and the Chinese government. When the deal was negotiated in 2018, Pope Francis had aimed to bring together Chinese Catholics who were then split between state-sanctioned and underground churches. Francis reportedly ceded some of the Vatican’s authority over appointing bishops to China’s Catholic churches to do so, though it remains unclear how much.
“Upon the expiration of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China regarding the appointment of Bishops, which was signed in Beijing on 22 September 2018 and took effect one month later, the two Parties have agreed to extend the experimental implementation phase of the Provisional Agreement for another two years,” the Vatican said in a statement announcing the renewed agreement.
“The Holy See considers the initial application of the Agreement – which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value – to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the Parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people,” the statement said.
Beijing issued its own statement, saying that the Chinese government and the Vatican agreed to renew the deal “after friendly consultations,” according to The Associated Press.
“The two sides will maintain close communication and consultations and continue to promote the process of improving relations,” the Chinese statement said.
The Vatican renewed the agreement over protests from the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited the Vatican in early October seeking an audience with the pope but was denied. Instead, he met with his Vatican counterpart, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
“We had a constructive discussion,” Pompeo said after the meeting. “We have a shared objective. The Chinese Communist Party is behaving in ways that are reminiscent of what’s only happened in centuries past in terms of human rights violations. We’ve watched them oppress not only Muslim Uighurs but Christians, Catholics, Falun Gong, people of all faiths.”
Francis struck the deal in 2018 reportedly over the protests of Catholic bishops in China. One of the terms of the agreement was that the pope reinstate seven bishops into the church that had been appointed by the Chinese government and not approved by the Vatican. The agreement also came amid a push by Chinese President Xi Jinping to “Sinicize” all religions in China, cracking down on any teachings that may conflict with those of the Chinese Communist Party.
Francis issued a letter after signing the 2018 agreement to answer critics and explain his decision to skeptical Catholics and critics. He emphasized that the Vatican wanted to build trust and understanding with the Chinese government through dialogue.
Francis also asked the faithful “to place your trust ever more firmly in the Lord of history and in the Church’s discernment of his will. May all of us implore the gift of the Spirit to illumine our minds, warm our hearts and help us to understand where he would lead us, in order to overcome inevitable moments of bewilderment, and to find the strength to set out resolutely on the road ahead.”
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