The Vatican is moving closer to a historic agreement with China over the major stumbling block of who ordains bishops, a source close to the matter told reporters on Friday, with seven Beijing-appointed bishops due to earn recognition.
Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic relations in 1951 and although ties have improved as China’s Catholic population grows, they have remained at odds over the designation of bishops.
“Things are moving, but it is still impossible to know when a final accord will be reached,” the source said. “In a framework agreement, however, still under negotiation with China, the Vatican accepts to legitimize seven Chinese Catholic bishops chosen directly by China.”
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
The source was confirming a Wall Street Journal report about what would be a significant Vatican concession.
The Holy See “hopes [the concession] will lead Beijing to recognize his authority as head of the Catholic Church in China,” the Journal said, quoting a “person familiar with the plan.”
Agence France-Presse’s source could not offer a date for an official agreement, saying it could still take time as complex negotiations launched three years ago continue.
The Vatican has excommunicated three of the seven bishops to be recognized by Pope Francis, an expert on the Catholic Church in China said.
China’s about 12 million Catholics are divided between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the Chinese Communist Party, and an unofficial church that swears allegiance to the Vatican.
However, the situation is complex because the Vatican has previously accepted several bishops appointed by Beijing, officially an atheist regime.
The issue flared again after two underground Chinese bishops, recognized by the pope, were asked by a top Vatican diplomat to resign in favor of state-sanctioned prelates, including one who was excommunicated by the Vatican in 2011.
The resignation requests appear linked to the negotiations and were first reported last month by the Vatican-linked AsiaNews Web site.
That report was confirmed on Monday last week by Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君), bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, who is a staunch opponent of any rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing.
The long-stalled negotiations finally seem to be close to solving the issue of who ordains the bishops.
Archbishop of Taipei John Hung (洪山川) said that even if conversations between China and the Vatican involve the appointment of bishops and other topics, it does not mean they would establish diplomatic relations.
The establishment of diplomatic relations is founded upon similar values, such as human rights, between the two parties, Hung said in Taipei yesterday.
“Taiwan is the pope’s ‘flock of lambs’ and the pope will not give up on any flock,” he said.
Taiwan has been very dedicated to the various humanitarian efforts of the Vatican, Hung said.
Pope Francis also cares a lot about Taiwan, he said, adding that the pope always sends cardinals to Taiwan to participate in events, and interactions between Taiwan and the Vatican have been pleasant.
Hung added he is to travel to the Holy See in May to meet Pope Francis and deliver a quinquennial report.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said that the ongoing discussions between China and the Vatican cover only religious affairs and not politics.
Taiwan would continue to deepen its relations with the Vatican, it added.
Additional reporting by CNA
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