As rumours fly of an imminent Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, a Belgian priest known as an expert on China said he thinks an agreement might really happen.
“I’ve never seen a more serious attempt to enter into a dialogue and to continue the dialogue,” said Missionhurst Fr Jeroom Heyndrickx, a member of the Vatican Commission on China, which has not met under Pope Francis.
The Vatican and China, which severed diplomatic ties in 1951, have had on-again, off-again talks since the 1980s. Fr Heyndrickx noted that the Vatican was not considering diplomatic ties, but only the appointment of bishops.
He said Pope Francis restarted negotiations with China in 2014, and “it has been clear from the beginning…it was a serious attempt on both sides.”
What is “remarkable,” he told Catholic News Service, is that both sides have continued to talk for four years. “They haven’t given up.”
One of the reasons Fr Heyndrickx believes China is negotiating in good faith is the Chinese know Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
“Chinese authorities, to my knowledge, have full trust in Cardinal Parolin, who came already to China in 2009” and negotiated the first draft of an agreement when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was Vatican secretary of state.
The Vatican did not sign that draft and, in 2009, China again began ordaining bishops illegally, without Vatican approval.
Fr Heyndrickx also said another key player was retired Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, 76, who served in the Secretariat of State under Cardinal Agostino Casaroli beginning in the 1980s. From 1990 to 1995, Archbishop Celli was undersecretary of state for relations with states.
“He knows” about the China situation, said Fr Heyndrickx. “And the Vatican and China know that he knows.”
The Asian church news agency ucanews.com reported on 21st March that Hong Kong-based Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kuin, one of the biggest critics of a Vatican deal, believes the landmark agreement could be signed as early as 23rd March.
Cardinal Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong, says the Vatican should not give China too much power in the selection of bishops. Months after Pope Francis’ 2013 election, Cardinal Zen called on the Vatican to speak more clearly in defense of Chinese Catholics, especially the so-called “underground” or clandestine communities who refuse to register with the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association.
Picture: A young woman prays during a 2017 Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing. As rumours fly of an imminent Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, a Belgian priest known as an expert on China said he thinks an agreement might really happen. (CNS photo/Wu Hong).