Vatican Denies Rumors of ‘Imminent’ Diplomatic Deal with China

Children prepare to take part in a mass on the eve of Christmas at the South Cathedral official Catholic church in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. Estimates for the number of Christians in China range from the conservative official figure of 23 million to as many as 100 million …
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

The Vatican has denied media reports of an imminent signing of an accord between the Holy See and China, which suggested that a deal could be struck as soon as this weekend.

The papal spokesman, Greg Burke, released a statement refuting the rumor, declaring that “there is no ‘imminent’ signing of an accord between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China.”

Burke added, however, that Pope Francis “remains in constant contact with his collaborators on Chinese matters and is following the steps of the ongoing dialogue.”

The rumor started when the secretary-general of the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, Bishop Guo Jincai, said Thursday that negotiations between China and the Vatican have reached “the final stages” and that an agreement regarding the appointment of bishops in China could be signed as early as this Saturday.

“If everything goes right, the deal could be signed as early as the end of this month,” said Guo, a government-approved bishop of the Catholic Patriotic Association. The Council of Bishops of which the bishop is general secretary is not recognized by the Holy See and Bishop Guo himself was ordained without Vatican permission and is still considered an illicit bishop not in communion with the Church.

As Breitbart News reported, Chinese police arrested an underground bishop Tuesday, Vincent Guo Xijin of Mindong. The bishop was subsequently released but has been forbidden from celebrating Mass as a bishop. He is reportedly being punished for refusing to concelebrate Mass with the state-approved bishop Zhan Silu, who is still excommunicated.

Police had arrived at the diocesan chancery around ten o’clock Monday night and took the bishop away along with the chancellor of the Diocese, Father Xu, according to a report from Asianews, the official outlet of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin is recognized by the Vatican but not by the Chinese authorities. Last October, the Vatican issued instructions for the bishop to step down from his post as bishop of Mindong to make way for the government-approved Bishop Vincenzo Zhan Silu and to accept being demoted to the role of his auxiliary bishop as a way of preparing for diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China.

At this same time last year Bishop Vincent Guo was arrested by police just prior to the Easter holidays, to prevent him from celebrating the festivities with his flock. Twenty days later he was released.

The Catholic Church in China has been split into underground and open communities since 1958, with the latter going by the title of the Catholic Patriotic Association, under the immediate control of the Communist party.

Currently, China’s 12 million Catholics are believed to be divided roughly 50-50 between the government-run association and the underground church loyal to Rome.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang would not confirm recent reports that a Chinese delegation is headed to Rome this week, but he said that China “is always sincere towards improving its relations with Vatican” and willing to meet it “half-way.”

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