ROME (AP) — The Vatican and China on Saturday expanded their criticized agreement on the appointment of bishops in the Asian country, whose government has cracked down on religious believers over the years.
In a brief statement, the Holy See announced on Saturday the latest two-year renewal of the 2018 agreement.
He said the Vatican is committed to “constructive dialogue” with China on the deal and improving relations.
The two sides have not had diplomatic relations since 1951, following the rise to power of the Chinese communists.
In the past, conservative Catholics have criticized the treatment in light of China’s persecution of those who practice their religions. The Vatican insists that better relations allow discussion of human rights abuses.
The full details of the deal have never been made public. But in essence, it gives Pope Francis the final say in the selection of bishops, while allowing Chinese authorities to weigh in earlier in the process.
For decades, Catholics in China have been divided between those who belong to an official state-sanctioned church and an underground church loyal to the pontiff.
“The Vatican Party is committed to continuing a respective and constructive dialogue with the Chinese Party for a productive implementation of the Agreement and further development of bilateral relations, with a view to furthering the mission of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people. ″ says the statement issued by the press office of the Holy See.
In Hong Kong last month, a 90-year-old Catholic cardinal and five others went on trial for allegedly failing to register a now-defunct fund set up to help people arrested in the city’s mass anti-government protests three years ago.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, who is a retired bishop from Hong Kong, was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security.
Critics contend that Francis has betrayed the underground faithful, especially as there have been arrests or detentions of Catholic clerics loyal to the Vatican in recent years. The Vatican counters that the 2018 deal prevents an even worse rift in the Chinese church after Beijing appointed bishops without the pope’s consent.
The agreement regularized the status of seven of these “illegitimate” bishops and put them in full communion with the Pope.
The Holy See insists on the pope’s divine right to choose bishops, while Beijing sees such appointments as infringing on its sovereignty.