China, Vatican sign provisional agreement

Accord Chine-Vatican les catholiques de Hong Kong et Taïwan plutôt optimistes

Accord Chine-Vatican les catholiques de Hong Kong et Taïwan plutôt optimistes

The Vatican on Saturday signed a landmark agreement giving it a long-desired say in the appointment of bishops in China, though critics labelled the deal a sellout to the Communist government.

China and the Vatican have announced they have signed a deal on bishop appointments and said they hope for greater collaboration.

Terming the agreement as "epoch making", Wang Meixiu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an official think tank, said it could help to normalise relations between the Holy See and China.

The provisional agreement, which was signed in Beijing by deputy foreign ministers from both sides, was described by the Vatican as "the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement", following a long process of careful negotiation, and subject to periodic review.

For the Vatican, having a unified Church in China is a crucial missionary platform for evangelising in a country estimated to have the most Christians anywhere in the world by 2030.

Analysts warn that Beijing could use the accord to further crack down on Catholic faithful in China.

Since Communism took hold in China, there have in practice been two Catholic churches - one sanctioned by the government and an underground one loyal to the Vatican.

China immediately said it was hopeful of better relations, while Taiwan insisted its ties with the Vatican were safe.

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Earlier this year, a source close to the matter told AFP that the agreement would include the Vatican recognising seven bishops who were chosen by the Chinese government but had never been accepted by the Holy See. Beijing wants the Vatican to stop recognising Taiwan and to not interfere in China's religious matters.

According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its decree on bishops, "the right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority".

It is thought in future bishops will be proposed by the Chinese authorities and then approved by the Pope, the BBC's James Reynolds reports from Rome.

Under President Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, faithful are seeing their freedoms shrink even as the country experiences a religious revival.

Xi is trying to infuse all of the religions in China with "Chinese characteristics" such as loyalty to the Communist Party. Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools and banned from religious activities during summer holidays, state-run media have reported.

The CPC which demand that its 90 million members remain atheists, apprehend foreign religions, specially Christianity, to subvert its rule like in the case of Poland where the Church movement was instrumental in overthrowing the Communist rule.

"This is not the end of a process, it's the beginning", Burke said. If not, "both sides will engage in a dialogue, and Beijing would eventually be expected to submit the name of another candidate".

Taiwan now has formal relations with only 17 states and the Vatican is the only one in Europe.

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