Vatican, China Prepare to Renew Landmark Agreement, Angering US | China

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The Vatican and China are preparing to renew a landmark bishop-appointment deal that has somewhat thawed frosty relations but angered the United States.Pope Francis has given the green light for the renewal of the agreement, which is still in “experimental” mode, for another two years, the AFP news agency reported on Tuesday.

The extension is expected to be signed next month, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last week that Beijing’s relations with the Vatican have improved.

Pope Francis has worked hard to reestablish ties with the communist country, but his overtures have come into conflict with US President Donald Trump’s efforts to assert a theme of religious freedom against China in his campaign for a second term.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched the offensive last week in an article in the US religious magazine First Things, criticizing the “horrible treatment” of believers of all faiths in China.

He wrote that many countries had expressed “disgust” at the regime’s “growing violations of human rights.”

“The Vatican is endangering its moral authority if it renews the agreement,” he added on Twitter.

‘Provisional agreement’

China’s estimated 12 million Catholics have been divided for decades between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the atheist Communist Party, and an unofficial underground church loyal to the Vatican.

The latter recognizes the authority of the Pope and is often persecuted for it.

After years of slow negotiations, the Vatican sealed a historic “provisional” deal with Beijing on September 22, 2018.

The exact content was never published, but the key point was that Beijing and the Vatican had a say in the appointment of Catholic bishops in China.

Francis immediately recognized eight Chinese bishops who had been appointed by Beijing without his approval.

Since then, two new bishops have been appointed in China, with a nod from the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

And in a historic milestone earlier this year, the Chinese and Vatican foreign ministers met publicly at an international event for the first time in 70 years.

‘Very little fruit’

Thorny issues, such as the sudden disappearance of Chinese Catholic priests from their parishes for weeks “at the invitation” of authorities, have meanwhile been raised with Beijing by Vatican diplomats, the source said.

One of the Catholic Church’s foremost experts on Chinese affairs, Father Bernardo Cervellera, told religious news site Cruxnow.com earlier this month that the deal may have attracted a lot of fanfare but had so far borne “very little fruit”.

And he expressed his hope that the Vatican, by renewing the deal, would be tougher on China.

Diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Holy See broke down in 1951, two years after the Communists came to power.

Efforts to restore relations have been hampered by the Vatican’s decision to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The autonomous island, with a population of 23 million, is considered part of its territory by Beijing.

The Vatican is Taiwan’s only diplomatic partner in Europe and Cervellera said he was concerned that China would demand that formal relations be cut.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday that the interim agreement with the Vatican had been “successfully implemented” and that there had been an increase in “mutual trust and consensus.”

Pope Francis’ right-hand man, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, declared in mid-September that “the current interest of the Catholic Church with China is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible”.

He admitted that the results so far had “not been particularly striking”.



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