The Vatican announced on Saturday that a secret and contentious agreement between the two countries on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in the communist nation has been renewed.
Since it was first signed in 2018, the agreement has now been extended twice, this time for an additional two years. The agreement was an attempt to bridge a gap between the state-backed official church and the underground pope-followers that had long divided mainland China. Both sides acknowledged the pope as the Catholic Church’s top leader for the first time since the 1950s.
It has been criticized as being a sell-out to the communist authorities by critics, including 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former archbishop of Hong Kong. Critics claim that the Vatican is not doing more to publicly defend Zen, who is currently on trial for using a charity fund for pro-democracy protestors. Zen pleaded innocent.
The agreement between the Vatican and China focuses on cooperation in bishop appointment, giving the pope ultimate and final authority.
Since the agreement was made, only six new bishops have been appointed, which, according to its detractors, shows that it is not having the anticipated results. They also highlight the growing limitations placed on Christians and other minorities right to practice their religion in China.
Francis compared those opposed to the agreement to those who criticized Popes John XXII and Paul VI in the 1960s and 1970s over the so-called “small steps policy,” in which the Vatican made occasionally awkward agreements with communist countries in Eastern Europe to preserve the Church during the Cold War and lessen its persecution there.