Vatican, China on verge of agreement over bishops: reports

Vatican-China agreement to allow Chinese government to control bishops, unite Catholic groups

Pope Francis in Italy, Sept. 2018.

Pope Francis in Italy, Sept. 2018. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Vatican City and the Chinese government are on the cusp of signing an agreement to allow the Chinese government to vet and appoint bishops, numerous reports suggested over the past few days.

The agreement will effectively unite the two strains of the Catholic Church in China; the Chinese government sanctioned church, and the unofficial church which looks to Rome. In doing so, numerous non-Chinese government aligned bishops are likely to be removed from their posts.

The Chinese Communist Party, an atheist party which bans its members from practicing religion, severed ties with the Vatican in 1951. The Vatican is reportedly keen to increase its formal influence in China in the context of declining church membership in the West and amid a string of scandals.

Rumors surrounding a potential agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government have gained their voice in recent weeks from sources in China, Europe, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. A potential resolution comes after three years of negotiation and postponements.

U.S. broadsheet the Wall Street Journal cited two people close to the matter as saying that successful conclusion of negotiations will occur soon on Sept. 14, while numerous Taiwanese sources suggest a deal will be done before Oct. 1.

Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said on Sept. 13 that it was likely that the agreement will be signed, and that the Taiwanese government is monitoring events. Lee stressed that the agreement is a religious one, without any diplomatic involvement, reported CNA.

A potential agreement is likely to see the Vatican recognize seven illegally ordained bishops aligned with China, a core interest of the Chinese government.

A potential agreement could have significant affects on the human rights of Chinese Catholics, and could upset some Catholics as Beijing has moved to tighten religious control, according to Stratfor.

There is broad concern that if agreement can be reached, the likelihood of the Vatican City formalizing diplomatic ties with China will be increased. The Vatican is Taiwan's remaining diplomatic ally in Europe, and has no formal ties to China.

Taiwan News reported that the negotiations come at a time when persecution of Christian groups has peaked to that of during the Cultural Revolution.