Two weeks ago, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy See expects to renew their controversial ‘provisional agreement‘ with China.
Yesterday, that intention was confirmed in a report by Italian newspaper La Stampa that a Holy See delegation would depart to Beijing “in the next few days” to renew the deal.
Parolin said they expect to maintain the deal as provisional, “as done in these first two years, so as to further verify its usefulness for the Church in China.”
“It seems to me that a direction has been marked out that is worth continuing; then we will see.”
According to Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, “the first two years led to new episcopal appointments with Rome’s agreement,” however only “some were officially recognized by the government in Beijing.”
“Even though contact was blocked in recent months due to the pandemic, the results have been positive, although limited, and suggest going forward with the application of the Agreement for another determined period of time.”
Signed back in 2018, the deal is set to expire in October. It recognizes the Pope’s authority to appoint new bishops in China, however, only candidates proposed by the government regime in Beijing can be chosen.
How effective is the “provisional agreement” in reality? Since it was signed, no new bishops have been named for the 52 dioceses in China with vacant sees. The South China Post reported:
“No new heads have been chosen for the 52 bishop-less dioceses in the two years since the agreement was signed, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, who declined to be named. Bishop appointments were supposed to be the first obstacle to be resolved under the agreement, but while China and the Vatican have come closer, they are not interacting and conversing on the same bandwidth.”
Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor in chief of AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and head of the official news agency for the Vatican Agenzia Fides, says the hopes of a prolonged deal are slim.
Cervellera believes conservative members of the Chinese Communist Party do not want to renew the agreement, fearing they will face pressure for more religious freedom following.
So far, China has only said their interim deal with the Vatican has been “implemented successfully,” and they have “accumulated more mutual trust and consensus through a series of positive interactions,” speaking on their mutual support during the coronavirus pandemic.