China and the Vatican have reached consensus on the appointment of bishops, which will lead to the resolution of other outstanding problems, said Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong. “From now on, there will be no more crisis of a division between the open and underground communities in the Church in China,” the cardinal said. “On the contrary, these two communities will gradually move toward reconciliation and communion on the aspects of law, pastoral care and relationships. The Church in China will work together to preach the gospel of Jesus on the soil of China,” Tong said.
The Vatican and China severed diplomatic ties in 1951. China requires Catholic leaders to register with the patriotic association and some bishops have refused. On some levels, this has led to two churches, the unofficial underground church and official or registered communities within the Catholic Church. In recent years, because of government requirements, the priests, nuns and lay people of Chinese dioceses have elected their new bishops. Most of those elected have applied to the Holy See for approval. The new agreement would resolve this issue.
The Sino-Vatican accord will “let the Pope play a role in the nomination and ordination of Chinese bishops,” the cardinal added. Under Church law, the pope has the final say in the appointment of bishops. Under the new agreement, “Beijing will also recognize the Pope’s right of veto and that the Pope is the highest and final authority in deciding on candidates for bishops in China,” he said.
Until the new agreement, the Catholic Patriotic Association advocated the “self-nomination and self-ordination” of bishops, but if the agreement on papal approval of bishops is reached, that principle will become history, he said. The churches in China, along with the government will recommend candidates, which the Vatican would review and choose from among them.
The role of the government-controlled patriotic association has been seen as a stumbling block in China-Vatican relations, but the agreement would turn it into a “voluntary, non-profit, patriotic and Church-loving organisation composed of clergy and faithful from all around the country,” Cardinal Tong said.
Pope Francis has worked to establish trust with the Chinese government, which has led to the agreement.
“The choices in front of us are either to embrace the essential freedom now and become an imperfect, but true Church, then struggle for complete freedom in the hope of moving toward a perfect Church, or we give up essential freedom and have nothing at all, and then wait for complete freedom – but no one knows when this will ever happen. In fact, the moral principle of the Church teaches us to choose the lesser of two evils.”
If all the world is going to follow Rome, China must be brought into line. While this is a delicate process, it is nevertheless in progress.
“And all the world wondered…” Revelation 13:3.