Vatican and China to sign agreement on bishop appointments in March

An improvement of relations between the Vatican and China will take place sooner or later as the agreement is signed, according to a Vatican official

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Pope Francis (right)

Pope Francis (right) (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An Italian newspaper reported on February 18 that the Vatican would sign an accord with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China in March. 

Corriere della Sera quoted a delegate from the Holy See as saying that “before the end of March, every day is a good day to sign the agreement with the Chinese authorities on the Catholic bishop appointments."

One of the high-level officials who closely followed the negotiations also said sooner or later the next step between the Vatican and Chinese government would be an improvement of relations, the report said. 

Corriere della Sera is not the only news media confirming the deal is on the way. In early February, the news agency Reuters also reported that the accord between the Holy See and China on the bishop appointments could be signed within a few months based on a senior Vatican source. 

The source also said with the formal agreement, the Vatican could play a role in future negotiations for the appointment of bishops in China.

What motivates the historic move for the relations between the Vatican and Beijing both religiously and politically is the Vatican’s intention to expand the Catholic communities in China.

In addition, the Vatican aspires to eliminate the division between the Catholic Patriotic Association recognized by the Chinese authorities and the “underground community” that obeys the pope in Rome. 

On the other hand, Taiwan was informed of the negotiations step by step from the Vatican, reported Corriere della Sera.

The report also said a delegation of five Taiwanese parliamentarians visited the Vatican with hope of meeting Pope Francis but was only received by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister.

The Taiwanese delegation, led by ruling Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應), visited the Vatican on February 5. Tsai cited a Vatican official as saying the negotiations between the Holy See and China focused on religious affairs and that neither diplomatic nor political issues were involved, reported Central News Agency at the time.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs echoed the statement above, and said the government had closely followed the interactions between China and the Vatican, which is Taiwan's only official diplomatic ally in Europe.

Another party that has been watching the progress of the Vatican-China negotiations is the U.S., reported the Italian newspaper. 

It said Washington was calculating the implications of the agreement, particularly on human rights and religious freedom in China.

Reports about the Vatican tilting toward Beijing on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China began to surface early this year. The Vatican asked two legitimate bishops to step down for the two candidates supported by the Chinese government. 

Reuters reported that one of the Vatican-backed bishops would become a “bishop emeritus” and the other an assistant to a succeeding bishop appointed by Beijing.