Vatican-China bishop agreement imminent

A Vatican-China agreement over the selection of bishops is rumoured to be likely to take place this week.

Speaking at a conference entitled “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation” in Rome late last week, Cardinal John Tong Hon said he supports the proposed agreement.

The agreement would see the Vatican propose a shortlist of candidates for a bishop’s post.

The Patriotic Association, a body set up by the Chinese government to govern Catholic affairs, would select the bishops from the list.

While Hon’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen, opposes the arrangement, Hon – who is Hong Kong’s bishop emeritus – says he believes the Chinese government has generally become more tolerant.

In his opinion, an accord would help bring further openness and unity to the Church.

He told the “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation” conference the agreement is “far-sighted”.

He said at times, sacrifice is necessary in order for Catholics to become “members of one family.”

The proposed agreement between China and the Vatican is intended to resolve long-standing tensions over the appointment of bishops.

The tensions have seen the Vatican insisting on the Pope’s autonomy and Chinese authorities asserting the right to name bishops to protect against foreign influence.

If an agreement is signed, it would signal an easing of the difficulties between Rome and Beijing.

They severed diplomatic ties in 1951, although there have been intermittent attempts to rebuild relations between the two since the 1980s.

During the conference, Tong stressed that “dialogue is an indispensable feature of our modern world”.

In his view, if Christianity and China “take a further step, we will find ourselves getting closer and closer to each other and becoming friends on the path to the truth.”

“I’ve never seen a more serious attempt to enter into a dialogue and to continue the dialogue,” said Missionhurst Father Jeroom Heyndrickx.

Heyndrickx is a member of the Vatican Commission on China, which has not met under Pope Francis.

He noted that the Vatican was not considering diplomatic ties, but only the appointment of bishops.

Hendrickx said Pope Francis restarted negotiations with China in 2014, and “it has been clear from the beginning … it was a serious attempt on both sides.”

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