The Vatican yesterday announced that it has reached a historic accord with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China, which has so far named its own officials to a sole Beijing-recognized Catholic church.
Beijing immediately said it hoped for better relations, while Taiwan said its ties with the Vatican were safe despite the deal.
The accord “has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application,” the Vatican said in a statement issued as Pope Francis visits the Baltic states.
“It concerns the nomination of bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level,” it added.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke downplayed any suggestion that the accord could have wider political implications.
The agreement “is not political, but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome, but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities,” Burke said in Vilnius.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Beijing and the Vatican would push to improve bilateral ties after signing the agreement.
The deal was signed in Beijing by Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Chao (王超) and a Vatican delegation headed by Under-Secretary for Relations with States Antoine Camilleri, the ministry said in a brief statement.
The two sides “will continue to maintain communication and push forward the improvement of bilateral relations,” it said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said that diplomacy is not a “zero-sum” game and cementing a long-lasting diplomatic relationship with the Vatican is Taiwan’s top priority.
“Taiwan-Vatican ties are stable because the two sides share the same values in democracy, human rights and religious freedom,” ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said.
“We believe that the Vatican must have held talks with China based on concern and respect for human rights and freedom of religion,” Lee said. “The most important thing for Taiwan is to continue maintaining a long-lasting and stable relationship with the Vatican.”
The Taiwanese ministry added that it hopes the deal would pave the way for religious freedoms in China, but said it also hopes that the Holy See would make sure Catholics in China “receive due protection and not be subject to repression.”
Jonathan Sullivan, director of China Programs at the University of Nottingham’s Asia Research Institute, said the accord was “a strategic move on China’s part and a naive one on the Vatican’s.”
The Chinese Communist Party “will frame the deal as the Vatican’s seal of approval to the state-run Catholic Church at a time when Christian believers are facing a severe crackdown on their beliefs and practices,” he said.
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