Vatican deal unlikely to spur religious freedom in China

Vatican announces historic deal with China on bishops

Vatican announces historic deal with China on bishops

After the provisional agreement was signed in Beijing on Saturday, the Vatican said Pope Francis recognised seven bishops who had been ordained in China without the Holy See's approval.

The deal, which is part of Pope Francis's vision to expand the Catholic Church's following across the world, would help the Vatican gain access to potentially millions of converts across China, the world's most populous nation.

But those with links to the unofficial church say it appears the Vatican is making concessions to China in hope of better relations, which could be a futile effort because Beijing is unlikely to go along with it in the long term.

Pope Francis lifted the excommunications or irregular status of seven bishops who had been ordained with government approval, but not the Vatican's consent, the Vatican announced September 22.

"This has been about dialogue, patient listening on both sides even when people come from very different standpoints", the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke said. The Holy See is the most prestigious of Taiwan's diplomatic partners, which now number only 17 after Beijing peeled off three others this year.

"The consequences will be tragic and long lasting, not only for the church in China but for the whole church because it damages the credibility".

Father Cervellera said the Vatican had accepted if it wanted a deal it would have to work with the Chinese government on their terms.

It gives the Holy See a decisive role in the appointment of all bishops in a country whose around 12 million Catholics have been split between an underground Church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.The Vatican said the accord, a breakthrough after years of negotiations, was "not political but pastoral".

China said the "provisional" agreement was signed in Beijing by vice foreign minister Wang Chao and a Vatican delegation headed by the under-secretary for relations with states, Antoine Camilleri.

The rapprochement has been criticised by some Catholics and rights activists who point out that it comes at a time when the government is tightening its grip on all religious groups.

Some Chinese officials worry that the deal sets a unsafe precedent by giving a foreign organization a measure of power over religious affairs in China.

Chinese bishop Joseph Li Shan, left, arrives for a mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a government-sanctioned Catholic church in Beijing, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

Shortly after the deal was unveiled, Pope Francis recognised seven clergy appointed by Beijing, which has not had ties with the Vatican since 1951.

"With a view of sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China, the Holy Father Pope Francis has made a decision to re-admit to full ecclesial communion the remaining "official" bishops, ordained without pontifical mandate", a statement said.

The current Taiwan government has taken a toughened line against Beijing, which knows that turning the Vatican would be "a major blow to Taiwan's diplomacy", Ying said.

The Vatican is one of Taiwan's last diplomatic allies and its most symbolically important one.

Media reports in the days before the announcement said future candidates for the office of bishop will be chosen at the diocesan level through a democratic election system, and the results of the elections will be sent to Beijing for government authorities to examine.