Vatican and China prepare to renew historic deal, angering US

Pope Francis has reportedly approved a two-year renewal of the deal on the appointment of bishops vetted by the Vatican.

The Vatican and China are preparing to renew a historic deal on the appointment of bishops that has slightly thawed icy relations, but has angered the United States.

Pope Francis has given the go-ahead for the renewal of the agreement, which is still in “experimental” mode, for another two years, AFP news agency reported on Tuesday.

The extension is expected to be signed next month, according to a source close to the dossier.

Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin indicated Beijing’s relationship with the Vatican has been improving.

Pope Francis has been working hard to repair ties with the Communist country, but his overtures have come into conflict with US President Donald Trump’s efforts to push a religious freedom theme against China in his campaign for a second term.

The president’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo went on the offensive last week in an article in US religious magazine First Things, slamming the “horrific” persecution of believers of all faiths in China.

He wrote that many countries had expressed “revulsion” at “accelerating violations of human rights”.

“The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal”, he added on Twitter.

‘Provisional deal’

China’s roughly 12 million Catholics have for decades been split between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the atheist Communist Party, and an unofficial underground church loyal to the Vatican.

The latter recognises the pope’s authority and is often persecuted for it.

After years of snail-pace negotiations, the Vatican sealed a historical “provisional” agreement with Beijing on 22 September 2018, the exact content of which has never been published.

The key point was that both Beijing and the Vatican were given a say in appointing Catholic bishops in China.

Efforts to rekindle ties have been hampered by the Vatican’s decision to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The self-ruled island, with a population of 23 million, is considered by Beijing to be part of its territory.

The Vatican is Taiwan’s only diplomatic partner in Europe and Cervellera said he feared China would demand formal ties be cut.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that the interim deal with the Vatican had been “implemented successfully”, and there had been an increase in “mutual trust and consensus”.

Pope Francis’s right-hand man, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in mid-September that the Catholic Church’s “current interest with China is to normalise the life of the church as much as possible”.

He admitted the results so far had “not been particularly striking”.

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