The Fujian province has about 370,000 Catholics and has a strong underground presence. Most of the approximately 80,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Mindong are underground Catholics, including about 50 priests and 100 nuns, according to UCA News.
In December 2017, the Holy See asked 88-year-old Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in Guangdong province to retire so that an illicitly ordained excommunicated bishop could take his place and be recognized by the Vatican, Asia News reports.
However, the Vatican-recognized bishop reportedly refused the delegation's request that he retire.
The controversies are part of a delicate diplomatic effort to advance Vatican-Chinese relations while also considering the circumstances of underground Catholics. Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president emeritus of the now-suppressed Pontifical Council for Social Communications, is responsible for the negotiations and was identified by Asia News as head of the Vatican delegation.
Even bishops in the patriotic association can be faithful to the Holy See, and they sometimes bristle against the association.
For its part, the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping is pursuing an effort to "Sinicize" religion. In his role as general secretary of the Communist Party, Xi called last October for "new approaches" to religious and ethnic affairs.
China instituted a major change in its religious oversight March 22 by abolishing the State Administration for Religious Affairs and shifting direct control to the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department. As a result, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will now be under the day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party.
There are differences of opinion about the Vatican-China agreement between the bishops emeriti of Hong Kong. Cardinal Joseph Zen Zi-kiun strongly opposes the deal, variously characterizing it as a "surrender" or "suicide" that would damage the Church and put too much power in the hands of Chinese officials.
"Better no deal than a bad deal," the cardinal told Raymond Arroyo, host of the EWTN news show The World Over.
For his part, Cardinal John Tong Hon has voiced support for a proposed deal on how Catholic bishops are appointed, saying he believes the Chinese government has generally become more tolerant, and an accord would help bring further openness and unity to the Church.
He said opposition to the accord is "unreasonable" because the deal aims at unity. He called the agreement "far-sighted," saying that at times, sacrifice is necessary in order for Catholics to become "members of one family."