The Vatican confirmed on Saturday (22) the renewal of the disputed agreement with China around the appointment of bishops of the Catholic Church in the Asian country. This is the second time that the agreement, which remains provisional, has been extended for another two years – the pact was established in 2018.
Before, bishops and priests relied solely on the endorsement of the so-called Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which ultimately answers to Chinese authorities, not the pope.
The deal was an attempt to ease a long-standing division on the Chinese mainland between an underground flock loyal to the Vatican and the official, state-backed church. For the first time since the 1950s, both sides recognized the pope as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
Critics such as Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, a former archbishop of Hong Kong, denounce the move as a betrayal of Beijing. He faces trial over his use of a charity on behalf of pro-democracy protesters, and many accuse the Vatican of not doing enough to defend him.
The pact with China is centered on cooperation for the appointment of bishops in the country, giving Pope Francis the final decision. Only six new religious leaders have been appointed since the deal was signed, which critics say is proof the deal is not producing the desired effects.
They also denounce the growing restrictions on religious freedoms for Christians and other minorities in the Asian country. In an interview with the Reuters news agency in July, Francis acknowledged that the agreement “walks slowly”, but defended the position that the Catholic Church needs to take a long-term view in China and that an imperfect dialogue is better than not having it. no dialogue.
The pontiff compared opponents to those who criticized Popes John 22 and Paul 6 in the 1960s and 1970s over often uncomfortable agreements with communist countries in Eastern Europe to keep the church alive during World War II and limit the persecution of Christians there. .
The Vatican insists that the deal with China only involves the structure of the church in the country and that it is not a gateway to full diplomatic relations, which would mean that Catholic leaders would have to cut ties with Taiwan, an island that Beijing considers it a rebellious province.
The renewal of the agreement comes as the Chinese Communist Party meets at the congress held every five years, the most important political agenda in the Asian nation. This time, the event is approving amendments that consolidate leader Xi Jinping’s control over the acronym.
Last month, the Vatican tried to arrange a meeting between Xi, 69, and Pope Francis, 85, when both leaders were in Kazakhstan, but China declined.