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Vatican and Beijing on cusp of ‘historic breakthrough in relations,’ says report

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The Vatican and Beijing, who have long endured icy relations, have created a common framework for a deal on how to appoint bishops in China, Reuters reports. A formal agreement “could be signed in a few months” and would be “an historic breakthrough in relations,” Reuters writes, citing “a senior Vatican source.”

  • Who gets to decide the legitimacy of bishops is a major sticking point in previously failed negotiations between the two sides. Many Catholic leaders outside of China take issue with the existence of the Catholic Patriotic Association, a parallel church leadership structure in China with Beijing, not the Pope, at the top.
  • But recently, the Vatican made some concessions on a couple difficult cases of bishop appointments. In one, “an 87-year-old prelate would retire to make way for a state-backed bishop to succeed him,” and in another, a “Vatican-recognized bishop would become an auxiliary, or assistant, to one who had been appointed by the government.”
  • These two cases were harshly condemned by Joseph Zen, a retired cardinal of Hong Kong, who accused the Church of “selling out” to Beijing, and going behind Pope Francis’s back to negotiate the details of appointments. The Vatican rebuked Zen, insisting that “The Pope is in constant contact with his collaborators… on Chinese issues.”
  • “An even partial resolution on the thorny issue of who gets to appoint bishops could open the way for a resumption of diplomatic relations nearly 70 years after they were cut during the Communist takeover of China,” Reuters explains.
  • Taiwan is nervous, because if the Vatican goes on to revive diplomatic relations with China would mean a breaking of relations with the island’s government, which only has formal relations with 20 foreign governments. AFP reports, “Taiwan lawmakers on Vatican trip ‘hoping for audience with Pope Francis’.”

Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.