Vatican and China Renew Deal Over Appointment of Bishops

The Vatican also offered a lengthy defense of the agreement, saying that “processes for new episcopal appointments are underway, some at an early stage, others at an advanced stage.”

Pope Francis waves at pilgrims from China at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on September 7, 2016.
Pope Francis waves at pilgrims from China at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on September 7, 2016. (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA)

VATICAN CITY — The Holy See has announced it has renewed its controversial Provisional Agreement with China on the appointment of bishops. 

 In a short statement (see below), the Holy See said it considers the “initial application” of the Agreement “to have been positive” and that the accord is of “great ecclesial and pastoral value.” 

 The Vatican also gave a lengthy defense of the agreement in an accompanying note published in L’Osservatore Romano (see below). In it, it said the agreement would remain confidential because of its “experimental nature” and reiterated its earlier assertion that Benedict XVI had approved a "draft.”


Communiqué on the extension of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China regarding the appointment of Bishops, 22 October 2020

 Upon the expiration of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China regarding the appointment of Bishops, which was signed in Beijing on 22 September 2018 and took effect one month later, the two Parties have agreed to extend the experimental implementation phase of the Provisional Agreement for another two years. 

The Holy See considers the initial application of the Agreement – which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value – to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the Parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people. 


 Accompanying article in L'Osservatore Romano:

 The Holy See and the People's Republic of China renew the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops for another two years

 The Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China concerning the appointment of Bishops was signed in Beijing on September 22, 2018. It entered into force one month later, with a duration of two years ad experimentum.

The agreement, therefore, expires today. Close to that date, the two parties evaluated various aspects of its application and agreed, through the official exchange of Notes Verbali, to extend its validity for another two years, until October 22, 2022. The renewal, therefore, of the Provisional Agreement seems to be a propitious opportunity to deepen its purpose and reasons.

 The main purpose of the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops in China is to support and promote the proclamation of the Gospel in those lands, reconstituting the full and visible unity of the Church. The main reasons, in fact, which have guided the Holy See in this process, in dialogue with the authorities of the country, are fundamentally of an ecclesiological and pastoral nature. The question of the appointment of Bishops is of vital importance for the life of the Church, both locally and universally. In this regard, the Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, states that “Jesus Christ, the eternal pastor, built up the holy Church and sent the apostles, as he himself had been sent by the Father (cf. Jn 20:21), and wished that their successors, that is, the bishops, be pastors in his Church until the end of time. In order that the episcopate itself might then be one and undivided, he set blessed Peter before the other apostles and in him established the principle and the perpetual and visible foundation of unity of faith and communion. (Lumen Gentium, 18).”

 This fundamental teaching, which concerns the particular role of the Supreme Pontiff within the College of Bishops and in the very appointment of Bishops, inspired the negotiations and was a reference point in the drafting of the text of the Agreement. This will ensure, little by little, the unity of faith and communion among the Bishops and full service to the Catholic community in China. Already today, for the first time in many decades, all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome and, thanks to the implementation of the Agreement, there will be no more illegitimate ordinations.

 It should be noted, however, that the Agreement does not address all the open questions or situations which still give rise to concern for the Church, but exclusively the subject of episcopal appointments, which is decisive and indispensable for guaranteeing the ordinary life of the Church, in China as in all parts of the world. Recently, His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, speaking on “The Catholic Church in China past and present” at the Conference held in Milan on 3 May, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the PIME missionaries in Henan, pointed out that some misunderstandings have arisen regarding the Provisional Agreement. Many of these misunderstandings arose from the attribution to the Agreement of objectives that it does not have, or from linking to the Agreement events concerning the life of the Catholic Church in China that are extraneous to it, or from connections with political issues that have nothing to do with the Agreement itself. Recalling that the Agreement concerns exclusively the appointment of bishops, Cardinal Parolin said he was aware of the existence of various problems concerning the life of the Catholic Church in China, but also of the impossibility of dealing with them all together.

 The stipulation of the Agreement, therefore, is the end point of a long journey undertaken by the Holy See and the People's Republic of China, but it is also and above all the point of departure for wider and more far-sighted understandings. The Provisional Agreement, whose text, given its experimental nature, has been consensually kept confidential, is the result of an open and constructive dialogue. This dialogue, nourished by respect and friendship, is strongly desired and promoted by the Holy Father. Pope Francis is well aware of the wounds brought to the communion of the Church in the past, and after years of long negotiations, initiated and carried on by his Predecessors and in an undoubted continuity of thought with them, he has re-established full communion with the Chinese Bishops ordained without pontifical mandate and has authorized the signing of the Agreement on the appointment of Bishops, whose draft had already been approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

 Cardinal Parolin has emphasized that the current dialogue between the Holy See and China has ancient roots and is the continuation of a path that began long ago. The last Pontiffs, in fact, have sought what Pope Benedict XVI has indicated as the overcoming of a "heavy situation of misunderstandings and misunderstandings", which "benefits neither the Chinese Authorities nor the Catholic Church in China". Quoting his predecessor John Paul II, he wrote in 2007: “It is no mystery to anyone that the Holy See, on behalf of the entire Catholic Church and - I believe - for the benefit of all humanity, hopes for the opening of a space of dialogue with the Authorities of the People's Republic of China, in which, having overcome the misunderstandings of the past, we can work together for the good of the Chinese people and for peace in the world" (Letter of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Presbyters, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China, N. 4).

On the part of some sectors of international politics, an attempt has been made to analyze the work of the Holy See mainly according to a geopolitical hermeneutics. In the case of the stipulation of the Provisional Agreement, on the other hand, for the Holy See this is a profoundly ecclesiological question, in accordance with two principles that have been made explicit: "Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia" (Saint Ambrose) and "Ubi episcopus, ibi Ecclesia" (Saint Ignatius of Antioch). Moreover, there is the full awareness that the dialogue between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China favors a more fruitful search for the common good for the benefit of the entire international community.

 With these intentions, Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, met with Mr. Wang Yi, Councillor of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, on the afternoon of February 14, 2020, in Munich, on the sidelines of the 56th edition of the Conference on Security, although in fact, their first personal meeting, although unofficial, had taken place on the occasion of a General Assembly of the United Nations Organization in New York. It should be noted that both meetings took place in the context of multilateral diplomacy acting in favor of global peace and security, trying to grasp every signal, even the slightest, that would support the culture of meeting and dialogue.

 As made public by the Holy See, during the colloquium held in Germany, contacts between the two parties, which have developed positively over time, were recalled. On that occasion, then, the willingness to continue the institutional dialogue on a bilateral level was renewed in order to favor the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people. Hopes for greater international cooperation were also expressed in order to promote civil harmony and peace in the world, and considerations on intercultural dialogue and human rights were exchanged. In particular, the importance of the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops, now extended, was highlighted, with the hope that its fruits will be ever greater, based on the experience gained in the first two years of its application.

 With regard to the results achieved so far, on the basis of the regulatory framework established by the Agreement, two Bishops have been appointed (H.E. Mgr. Antonio Yao Shun, of Jining, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and H.E. Mgr. Stefano Xu Hongwei, in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province), while several other processes for new episcopal appointments are underway, some at an early stage and others at an advanced stage. Although, statistically, this may not seem like a great result, it represents, however, a good start, in the hope of progressively reaching other positive goals. It is not possible to overlook the fact that in recent months the whole world has been almost paralyzed by the health emergency, which has affected life and activity in almost all areas of public and private life. The same phenomenon has also influenced, obviously, regular contacts between the Holy See and the Chinese Government and the very implementation of the Provisional Agreement.

 The implementation of the Agreement, with the effective and increasingly active participation of the Chinese Episcopate, therefore, is having a great importance for the life of the Catholic Church in China and, as a consequence, for the universal Church. In this context, there is also the pastoral objective of the Holy See, to help Chinese Catholics, long divided, to offer signs of reconciliation, collaboration and unity for a renewed and more effective proclamation of the Gospel in China. To the Catholic community in China - to the Bishops, priests, men and women religious and the faithful - the Pope has entrusted in a special way the commitment to live an authentic spirit of fraternal love, making concrete gestures that help to overcome misunderstandings, bearing witness to their faith and genuine love. We must recognize that there are still many situations of great suffering. The Holy See is deeply aware of this, takes it into account and does not fail to draw the attention of the Chinese government to encourage a more fruitful exercise of religious freedom. The road is still long and not without difficulties.

 Trusting completely in the Lord of history who unfailingly guides His Church and in the maternal intercession of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sheshan, the Holy See entrusts this delicate and important step to the gracious support and, above all, to the prayers of all Catholics, and hopes that with this contact and dialogue with the People’s Republic of China, which has matured to the point of the signing of the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops and its renewal today, that they might contribute to the resolution of the matters of common interest that are still open, in particular, those touching the life of the Catholic community in China, as well as the promotion of an international vision of peace, in a moment in which we are experiencing numerous tensions on an  international level.


Editor's Note: This is a Register working translation.