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.
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.
With this deal, Pope Francis "is building bridges," he said, adding that he believes the stronger and more vocal opponents of the accord "are on the wrong side of history."
(Story continues below)
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One of the most outspoken critics of a deal with the Chinese government has been Cardinal Joseph Zen, Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.
Zen was ordained a priest in 1961 and became a bishop in 1996. He has spent a long missionary career in China, and has long been a vocal protester against human-rights abuses in China.
His concerns have grown so great that he recently traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis about the proposed deal, after the Vatican asked Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in southern Guangdong province and Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin from the Mindong Diocese of China's eastern Fujian province to retire so that bishops from the patriotic association could take their place.
In a letter posted to his blog Jan. 29, Cardinal Zen said that while his meeting with the Pope last week was consoling, he believes "the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China...if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months."
He implied that Francis was unfamiliar with the situation, and questioned whether there could be any mutual ground with "a totalitarian regime," comparing this to a hypothetical agreement between St. Joseph and King Herod. He said that if the agreement that comes out is a poor one, "I would be more than happy to be the obstacle."
The Vatican immediately responded, and in a Jan. 30 statement said Francis is well-informed of the dialogue with China, so "it is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy."