Vatican, China Extend Accord on Chinese Bishops Appointment to 2024

The Vatican and the Chinese government have renewed the 2018 provisional agreement on the appointment of Chinese bishops in the country. With the renewal, the agreement will be in effect until Oct. 22, 2024, following the first renewal in 2020.

Details of the Agreement

According to an FSSPX.News report, the Sino-Vatican agreement renewal resulted from negotiations between Chinese and Roman diplomats between August and September 2022. The talks reportedly happened in Tianjian province in Northern China.

Pope Francis’ envoys met Msgr. Melchiorre Shi Hongzhen during the event. The 92-year-old bishop belongs to China’s “underground Church,” which is not recognized by the ruling party of President Xi Jinping.

The meeting between the bishop and the papal envoys apparently signaled the gradual blurring of lines between the government-recognized Church and the underground Church.

Another positive sign of the Chinese government’s slow approval of the underground Church was the government’s recognition of six Underground Church bishops. It also adds to the approved six bishops handpicked by the pope.

The article disclosed that such recognition from the Chinese government was the first such approval by Beijing following the Sept. 5, 1991, collapse of diplomatic ties between China and the Holy See.

The agreement provides that Beijing has the right to choose which bishops the government would recognize from the names submitted by the Vatican. The exact content of the agreement, however, is not public knowledge.

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‘Not All Rosy’

These apparent good news contrast the dreary fact surrounding the restart of 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Ze Ze-Kiun’s court trial in Hong Kong. Cardinal Ze-Kiun is reportedly a long-standing adversary of the Chinese government.

Another thing that paints a not-so-rosy picture of the Church’s state in China is that 36 vacant diocesan positions remain out of the total 98 dioceses across the country. 

Nonetheless, Fides director Gianni Valente said: “All Catholic bishops stationed in China are ‘officially in full communion'” with the Successor of Peter. He added that it ‘ends an almost 70-year-old schism.’

Meanwhile, some of Pope Francis’ critics point out how Cardinal Ze-Kiun’s fate has been ‘sacrificed on the altar’ to make the renewal of the agreement possible. They added that such a situation brings uncertainties for the Church in the communist country.

The report mentioned how the renewed agreement did not effectively prevent Chinese government forces from “cutting down church crosses” or ‘preventing minors from worshipping in churches.’ It added that the government-recognized bishops also belong to the highly schismatic Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics.

The article disclosed that the so-called official bishops primarily take orders from the Chinese government and relay such orders to the Chinese Catholics without really considering the Vatican’s reaction to such orders.

Ultimately, the agreement benefits only the parties who are content with having legitimized Catholic bishops whom Beijing treats as its mouthpiece among the Chinese Catholics.

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