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China proposal to the Holy See offers hopes of breakthrough

Faithful pray at a Mass in Xiliulin, China (Photo: CNS)

China has proposed to the Vatican a joint system of appointing bishops in a move that raises hopes of a breakthrough in relations.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), a state-run body, said it hoped to receive the Vatican’s response to its proposals by the start of next year, according to official media.

The appointment of bishops has been a key obstacle in attempts at rapprochement between the Holy See and China.

Official Chinese media quoted a source close to the negotiations saying: “The Vatican seems to hope for more agreements beyond bishop ordination, such as cancelling the CCPA. But that doesn’t appear likely.”

The Church in China is split between the official institution run by the CCPA and an “underground” community of Catholics which professes full fidelity to the Pope.

In a groundbreaking letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI called for greater co-operation between these two communities.

Soon after the letter was published, the Vatican and China seemed on the verge of establishing a joint system for appointing bishops, with the names of new bishops submitted to Rome prior to their appointment.

However, the system broke down in 2010, when China ordained a bishop without papal approval and forced bishops loyal to Rome to attend the ceremony.

The CCPA, which governs the Church in China, was set up in the 1950s after China broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 out of 193 countries in the world.