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New Chapter of Catholicism In China

As a result of the "provisional agreement" in which seven excommunicated bishops are readmitted, all the bishops of China will be in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

A new chapter has been ushered in the diplomatic relationship between the Republic of China and the Holy See with the signing of a “provisional agreement” that ends decades of strain on the appointment of bishops and recognizes the Pope’s authority over the Catholic Church in China. 

From now on, the appointment of new bishops will be the result of a dialogue between Beijing and Rome with the Pope having the final say. He himself made this point clear in an inflight press conference: “There is a dialogue about possible candidates, but  it is the Pope who appoints, this is clear.” 

It is the beginning of a process aimed at bringing together the two separated Catholic communities – “Underground Church” (suffers persecution for not submitting to the state) and “Patriotic Catholic Association” (state-sanctioned) – in mainland China since the breakup of ties between the communist government and the Vatican in 1951. 

However controversial, this is a historic agreement. “Underground” Catholics who never accepted to be part of the “Official Church” feel betrayed in their fidelity to the Pope as they endured persecution. They do not agree also with the interference of the communist regime in the selection of bishops. 

For those who are optimists and favor the Vatican diplomacy, it is better to give up something rather than having bishops and Catholic communities that are not in full communion with the Pope. Part of the deal includes the lifting of the excommunication of seven bishops of the “Patriotic Church” who were ordained in the past years without papal approval. As a result, all the bishops of China will now be in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. 

In a message to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church, dated September 29, Pope Francis appeals to all the faithful to be involved by working hard to achieve full reconciliation. This unparalleled process, the message states, wishes “to heal the wounds of the past, restore full communion among all Chinese Catholics, and lead to a phase of greater fraternal cooperation, in order to renew our commitment to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.” 

In this “provisional” deal many details remain to be settled. Confidently, the sticking points will be fine-tuned with the passing of time and a new era for the Catholics in China will dawn. 

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