A senior Vatican source reported that Vatican City (Reuters) – Pope Francis has signed a two-year extension on the appointment of bishops with China, which critics have sold to the Communist government.
The two-year provisional deal, which gives the Pope a final say on the appointment of bishops, took effect on October 22, 2018 and, if the Chinese side agrees – seen as almost a given – will be extended without any change, Source said
“We think it makes sense to extend it for the next two years,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Some Catholics in Asia feared that China would pressurize the Vatican to join Hong Kong, following the implementation of a new national security law that would greatly expand Beijing’s reach in the city, but the source said it would not .
“There are no changes,” he said of the agreement, whose text is still secret. He said church officials involved with the deal proposed that it would be renewed and the Pope gave the green light.
In Beijing last week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian indicated that China was also renewed, stating that closer dialogue and consultation between the two sides would continue and bilateral relations would improve.
On Monday, the Vatican’s secretary of state and top diplomat, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told reporters “I think and I hope” that Beijing wanted to renew.
Catholics in China are emerging from more than half a century of divisions that saw them split between a state-supported “official” church and a “non-official” underground church that remained loyal to Rome.
Both sides now recognize the Pope as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
The source said, “It is not easy with the communist, atheist regime to see religion as an intervention, but not better than what we have.”
China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in recent years the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
Critics say it has pushed the deal forward. The Vatican says there will be no risk of any deal being struck in the Church of China.
One of the most outspoken critics has been Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Archbishop of Hong Kong, who has accused the Vatican of selling and closing the memory of persecuted Catholics.
Beijing has been following a policy of “abolition of religion” since the victory of a civil war in 1949, the Communist Party that has ruled China has been trying to root out foreign influences and implement religion.
“It makes sense to renew for the Vatican because there was no dialogue after 1949. Now the Vatican has at least this thread, which is a very weak one, ”said Father Bernardo Severlera, who heads the Rome-based AsiaNews agency, which monitors China.
“But it has produced very little fruit so far and I hope the Vatican demands more from sugar,” he said.
Many see the deal as reestablishing diplomatic relations after more than 70 years of breakdown.
To do so, the Vatican would have to break full ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a freehand province. The Vatican is the only state in Europe that still recognizes Taipei.
The Vatican source said, “The path to diplomatic normalization will be very long.”
Additional reporting by Yu Lun Tian in Beijing and Greg Torode in Taipei; Editing by Alex Richardson