Pope gives green light to renewing Vatican-China deal

Pope Francis has given the green light to extending a two-year old deal with China about the appointment of bishops.

Critics are condemning the deal’s extension as a sell-out to the communist government, a senior Vatican source says.

China’s agreement to extend the deal is likely, given that China says its relationship with the Vatican has been improving.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson says China would like to remain in touch with the Vatican to ensure more progress in the relationship.

He made the comment after hearing reports that Francis had given the green light to extend the accord with Beijing.

Some Catholics in Asia are concerned China would pressure the Vatican to include Hong Kong in the deal.

However, a source who claims to know the text of the new deal says this is not the case.

“There are no changes,” he said of the still-secret accord text.

Catholics in China are emerging from more than half a century of division that saw them split between a state-backed “official” Church and a “non-official” underground Church that remained loyal to Rome.

Both sides now recognise the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.

“It’s not easy dealing with a communist, atheist regime that sees religion as interference, but what we have is better than no accord at all,” a Vatican source says.

China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. However in recent years the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the Communist Party’s authority.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says Catholics and observers are concerned about the decision to extend the agreement.

Its renewal comes at a time of increasing violations of citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief, they say.

CSW receives reports of violations against every major religious community in the country, including Christians, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong adherents.

Some critics, like Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar and Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, have accused the Vatican of selling out and offending the memory of persecuted Catholics.

The Vatican is defending its decision, saying no deal would have risked causing a schism in the Church in China.

“It is understandable for the Vatican to want to renew because after [the civil war in China in] 1949 there was no dialogue. Now the Vatican at least has this thread, albeit a very weak one,” says the head of the Rome-based AsiaNews agency, which monitors China.

“But it has borne very little fruit so far and I hope the Vatican demands more from the Chinese.”

Many see the deal as precursor to re-establishing diplomatic relations after a rupture of more than 70 years.

To do so, the Vatican would have to break full relations with Taiwan.

The Vatican has asked Taiwan not to worry about the deal’s extension, as it was a religious matter and not a diplomatic one.


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