THE Vatican has renewed its agreement with China on the appointment of bishops, extending an agreement reached in 2018.
The Vatican said it was committed to “respectful dialogue” with China’s communist government and “to further the mission of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people.”
The provisional agreement forged in 2018 and renewed in 2020, has been extended for two years.
The text of the agreement was never made public, but Vatican officials said it outlined procedures to ensure Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the Pope before their ordinations and facilities.
Over the past four years, six bishops have been appointed and installed under the terms of the agreement.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, told Vatican News that the agreement’s achievements also included the lifting of excommunications or irregular status for seven bishops who had been ordained with government approval, but not the consent of the Vatican.
The agreement is still “provisional” because “we are still in the experimental phase”, specified the cardinal.
“As is always the case, such difficult and delicate situations require sufficient implementation time to then be able to verify the effectiveness of the result and identify possible improvements.
“Pope Francis, with determination and patient foresight, has decided to continue on this path, not in the illusion of finding perfection in human rules, but in the concrete hope of being able to assure the Chinese Catholic communities, even in such a complex context, of the direction of pastors worthy and suitable for the task entrusted to them”.
Many dioceses still do not have bishops or have very elderly bishops, he said, but the process continues.
However, Cardinal Parolin also acknowledged “that there are dioceses in which, despite all efforts and goodwill, no fruitful dialogue exists with local authorities.”
The Cardinal reaffirmed what Pope Francis and Vatican officials have always said: giving up full control over the choice of bishops is not what the Vatican would have hoped for, but it seemed like a good first step towards greater freedom and security for the Catholic community in China.
The deal, however, has been criticized by several figures, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, who said the deal would “kill” the unofficial or underground church in China, whose leaders refuse to register with the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Cardinal Parolin told Vatican News that the agreement was not primarily about diplomatic relations with China.
On the contrary, he said, “it mainly concerns aspects that are essential to the daily life of the church in China. I am thinking, for example, of the validity of the sacraments celebrated and of the certainty for millions of faithful Chinese of being able to live their faith in full Catholic communion, without being suspected of not being faithful citizens of their country. ”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said the agreement attempts “to safeguard the valid apostolic succession and sacramental nature of the Catholic Church in China,” Cardinal Tagle said. “It can reassure, comfort and enliven baptized Catholics in China.”
As a by-product of his dialogue with the Chinese government, he said, “one of the wishes of the Holy See has always been to foster reconciliation and to see the lacerations and contrasts opened within the Church by the tribulations she has gone through, healed Some wounds need time and the consolation of God to be healed.
The Vatican is not naive, he says. “The Holy See never spoke of the agreement as the solution to all problems. It has always been perceived and affirmed that the road is long, that it can be tiring and that the agreement itself can cause misunderstandings and disorientation.
Also, the Vatican will not ignore or minimize the suffering and different reactions of Chinese Catholics to the deal, he said.
“The joy of some and the perplexity of others” is part of the process. But you always have to get your hands dirty with the reality of things as they are.