In a historic breakthrough, the Holy See has signed today, Sept. 22, “a provisional agreement” with China on the appointment of bishops.
In a statement issued at midday (Rome time), the Vatican said that the agreement was signed “within the framework of the contacts between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China that have been underway for some time in order to discuss Church matters of common interest and to promote further understanding.”
It was signed at a meeting in Beijing between Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and Mr. Wang Chao, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “respectively heads of the Vatican and Chinese delegations.”
It said the provisional agreement, “which is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed upon following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application.”
The Holy See and China have “the shared hope” that “this agreement may favor a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China.
It said the agreement 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 said the Holy See and China have “the shared hope” that “this agreement may favor a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world.”
The agreement is the result of almost four decades of patient dialogue and often complex dialogue between the two sides that started before 1983. The dialogue went through many ups and downs. Much headway had been made under Benedict XVI but negotiations floundered in 2010 and did not start again until after Francis became pope in 2013. The Jesuit pope made a determined effort to break through the impasse and today his efforts, built on the culture of encounter not confrontation, have borne fruit.
It is the first time that the Holy See and China have signed an agreement since the Communists took power on Oct. 1, 1949.
It is the first time that the Holy See and China have signed an agreement since the Communists took power on Oct. 1, 1949, and it opens a new page in the history of relations between the most populous country in the world with over 1.3 billion people and the worldwide Catholic church with the same number of members.
The agreement resolves a key issue between the two sides, the appointment of bishops, but many other problems have to be resolved before there is a full normalization of relations between the two sides.
“This is not the end of a process. It’s the beginning. This has been about dialogue, patient listening on both sides even when people come from very different viewpoints,” the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, said.
He explained that “the objective of the accord is not political but pastoral allowing the faithful to have bishops that are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by the Chinese authorities.
More details are expected later today from the Vatican with comments by the cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, who has overseen the negotiations.