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Vatican and China sign ‘provisional agreement’ on bishops

Chinese Catholics hold candles at a Mass during Easter (Getty Images)

The Holy See and the People’s Republic of China have signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, the Vatican has announced.

Mgr Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, signed the deal in Beijing with Wang Chao, representing the Chinese government.

The Vatican has so far not released the full text of the deal, but they said it “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.”

“The shared hope is that this agreement may favour 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 Vatican added.

Spokesman Greg Burke said the deal would allow Chinese Catholics “to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.”

“This is not the end of a process. It’s the beginning,” Burke added. “This has been about dialogue, patient listening on both sides even when people come from very different standpoints.”

Along with the deal, the Vatican also announced that the Pope had created a new Diocese of Chengde, in the province of Hebei.

Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said the Pope had also lifted excommunications on seven bishops, meaning that all Chinese bishops are now in communion with Rome.

The Chinese Church is currently divided between those who follow bishops appointed by Rome, and the “official” Church made up of bishops appointed by the Chinese government.

China’s communist regime regards Vatican appointment of bishops as foreign interference, however under Church law any bishop appointed without Vatican approval is automatically excommunicated.

Before the deal was signed, there had been speculation that it would involve Chinese authorities suggesting a list of three candidates to the Vatican, who would appoint one as the new bishop.