A breakthrough may be near in the long-running dispute between the Vatican and China over the ordination of bishops.
According to the news agency Reuters, the Vatican will recognise at least four Chinese bishops who were appointed by the Chinese government without the consent of the Pope, and who have until now been considered illegitimate by the Holy See. This follows a meeting in mid-August between some of these bishops and representatives of the Vatican.
For over six decades the Chinese Communist Party has contested the right of the Vatican to appoint new bishops to serve the 10 million Catholics in the country. Instead China has appointed bishops who have not been approved by the Church, while “underground” bishops ordained by the Church have risked arrest and imprisonment.
The four bishops who sources say will be recognised are Joseph Ma Yinglin, the bishop of Kunming in Yunnan province; Guo Jincai, bishop of Chengde in Hebei province near Beijing; Yue Fusheng, bishop of Harbin in the northern Heilongjiang province; and Tu Shihua, bishop of Puqi in Hunan province.
Under the draft agreement, new bishops in China will be chosen by local clergy, with the Pope making the final appointment. The Pope will have the power to veto a candidate, for instance on ethical grounds; at least two of the bishops still not recognised by the Church have girlfriends or children.
There are still issues to be resolved. Some 30 bishops recognised by the Vatican work in the “underground” Church, and risk persecution by the state. The Vatican hopes that these bishops will be recognised by the Chinese government.
Of the 100 dioceses on the Chinese mainland, around 30 are without a bishop, and around the same number have a bishop aged over 75.
Although the agreement on the bishops is a major development in relations between the Church and China, it is understood that the topic of full diplomatic relations is not being discussed.