As part of the agreement, which has been widely reported in recent days, the Vatican is expected to officially recognize seven bishops who are out of communion with Rome, including 2-3 bishops, one of which is Ma, whose excommunications have been explicitly declared by the Vatican.
Most notably, the new deal would also apparently outline government and Vatican roles in future episcopal selection. Reportedly, the details of the deal would have the Vatican proposing names and the Chinese government having the final say over Vatican-vetted candidates.
Cappello said the proposal has already been discussed in China, and he believes “this is the direction that things are going.”
In 1951 Beijing broke official diplomatic ties with the Vatican. Since the 1980s they have loosely cooperated in episcopal appointments, however, the government has also named bishops without Vatican approval.
The result has led to a complicated and tense relationship between the patriotic association and the “underground Church,” which includes priests and bishops who are not recognized by the government.
Many Catholics parishioners and priests who have rejected government control have been imprisoned, harassed and otherwise persecuted.
Currently every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the patriotic association, and many bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not recognized or approved by the Chinese government have faced government persecution.
Many of the Vatican-approved bishops in China are drawing near to the age of 75, when they are required to submit their request for retirement, and many others have died, yet few successors have been named, raising questions as to whether or not a deal might be drawing near.
Regarding the seven bishops who will be recognized should a new agreement come to pass, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, who has worked with the seven bishops in question through the Caritas in Veritate for the past several years and was in China in July 2017, confirmed the news on the bishops’ proposed approval, saying “if the Vatican is going to accept them and an accord be reached, it's going to be for all of them. ”
Figueiredo, who lives in Rome, travels to China several times a year with Caritas in Veritate, said he has worked closely with the seven bishops in question, and “they have desired this communion for years.”
He personally delivered a letter from the bishops to the Pope in 2016, which he says told the Pope they wanted communion with Rome.
“They didn't propose the deal, certainly not in the letter they gave me, because that's what's come afterwards,” he said, noting that the Vatican has on several occasions sent a delegation to Beijing to discuss the details of a possible agreement.
(Story cotinues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Figueiredo said the deal could come within the next few months, saying “I think it could well come this spring, absolutely.”
For his part, Cappello said he could neither confirm nor deny any specific details of the agreement, but that as of two weeks ago during his visit to China, “we are talking in the right direction” in terms of what's already been reported.
He said that in his view, to say China would have the final say in bishop appointments oversimplifies the matter, because the Church in China is complicated and nuanced due to its relations with a communist state.
“The Chinese bishops in China would have a big say, but knowing that the Church in China is in a communist nation, then the Church and the State, the line between them is very narrow,” he said.
“There's really no black and white, there's overlap there, so of course there would be an input from the government...it will be a collaboration,” Cappello said.
And as someone that has traveled back and forth to various provinces in China for the past 25 years, he said he has seen progress he calls remarkable, in terms of relations in the past decade, and during the past five years in particular.