Vatican announces historic deal with China on bishops

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(Vatican City) – The Vatican announced a historic accord with China on the appointment of bishops in the Communist country as Pope Francis recognised seven Beijing-appointed bishops in a move that could pave the way for a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the world´s most populous country.

Beijing immediately said it hoped for better relations, while Taiwan said its ties with the Vatican were safe despite the deal with China.

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China divided between a government-run association whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party and an unofficial church which swears allegiance to the Vatican.

The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951, two years after the founding of the communist People´s Republic.

This year, churches have been destroyed in some Chinese regions and there has been a clampdown on Bible sales. Crosses have been removed from church tops, printed religious materials and holy items confiscated, and church-run kindergartens closed.

The preliminary agreement with China “has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application,” the Vatican said in a statement issued as Pope Francis began a visit to the Baltic states.

“It concerns the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level,” it said.

Pope Francis meanwhile recognised seven bishops who had been ordained in China without the approval of the Holy See, his office said.