Holy See, China continue to negotiate situation of underground bishops

Flag of China Credit Tomas Roggero via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 11 15 13 The flag of the People's Republic of China. | Tomas Roggero via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Sources say the Holy See and the People's Republic of China are involved in new negotiations over the fate of bishops who have remained faithful to Rome "underground" for years in Communist China, Agence France-Presse has reported.

These negotiations are a follow up to the agreement that was reached Sept. 22.

An unnamed Vatican source reportedly told AFP that the Holy See could win concessions from the Chinese government by the end of the year, and that Vatican negotiators hope to convince Beijing to recognize officially a dozen "underground" bishops by December.

New regulations on religious practice in China went into effect in February 2018 that codify increased scrutiny and pressure on almost all religious activities in China. The government has recently been engaged in a crackdown on religion throughout the country, including bulldozing of Christian churches and internment of Muslims.

In light of the government's harsh actions, "underground" clergy in the country want safeguards, and the goal of the new negotiations is to try to "give more space" to Catholic believers, the Vatican source told AFP.

Relations between the Chinese government and the Vatican have long been strained, as Catholicism in China has been controlled since 1957 by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is now directly supervised by the Chinese Communist Party.

The patriotic Church has long been ordaining bishops illicitly, and refusing to accept most appointments of bishops from Rome.

There are still 40 or so bishops, directly nominated by the Holy See who have never been recognized by the Communist regime in China, though China has agreed not to force them into the CCPA, AFP reported.

The Vatican Sept. 22 announced that a deal had been struck with the Chinese government regarding the nomination of bishops, without providing many details on the content of the deal. The same day, the Vatican also announced the admission of seven Chinese bishops, who were ordained in the patriotic Church without Rome's permission, into full communion with the Catholic Church. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the objective of the deal was pastoral and meant to create greater freedom and autonomy for the Church in China, to aid its mission of spreading the Gospel.

Some have criticized the deal, however, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, who Sept. 26 called the deal "an incredible betrayal," as reported by Reuters.

Pope Francis took responsibility for the deal Sept. 25, saying that although the negotiations were years in the making, he personally reviewed and signed off on the dossiers for each illicitly ordained bishop.

The Vatican had previously recognized 70 or so Chinese-ordained bishops over the past two decades. With the recognition of the final seven, this means that, for the first time, all bishops in China are in communion with Rome, though not all are recognized by the Chinese government.

There are about 10 million Catholics in China, according to various estimates.

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