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Silent Sino-Vatican meetings continue

HONG KONG (SE): The Vatican held its second meeting with representatives of the Chinese Communist Party this year, just days after the president of China, Xi Jinping, laid out a party blueprint for the management of religious affairs during the National Conference on Religious Work held in Beijing from April 22 to 23.

Church people in both Rome and China said that the second closed-door tête-à-tête is believed to have taken place in Beijing during the last week of April.

While few details have been made available from the summit on religion—the first in 15 years—it appears China may tighten its control on different aspects of religious life and activity under a policy it calls Sinicisation.

Pope Francis has made it clear that pursuing a rapprochement with China is a key priority for his papacy. In all events, the Vatican was able to negotiate a resumption in its interrupted dialogue with China in June 2014.

Subsequent meetings took place from October 11 to 16 last year and January 25 to 26 this year.

“I find it remarkable that so soon after the last round of negotiations in January, this second round took place,” UCAN quoted a person who confirmed that the April meeting actually did take place, as saying.

Another Church person added that the Vatican would not be rushed in the difficult search for an accord, but instead proposed to organise a working group so that both sides can study thorny issues one by one.

The Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, told the San Francesco magazine in early May that the dialogue between China and the Vatican “is a long path, which has known both highs and lows. It is not over yet and it will finish when God wants it to.”

Cardinal Parolin was the chief negotiator with China as the under-secretary of state when talks broke down in 2009.

He continued, “Right now we are in a positive phase, there are signs that the two parties have the will to pursue a dialogue and to work together to find solutions to the problem of the presence of the Catholic Church in this huge country.”

Another person said that one of the issues being studied is whether the eight illicitly ordained bishops in China could receive a pardon from the pope, as a first step towards regularising their situations.

There are also Church people outside China who have been promoting reconciliation for the illicit bishops with the Vatican.

The president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, and his two vice presidents, Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting and Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, were invited to visit the United States of America during September last year while Pope Francis and Xi were both in the country.

Bishop Ma and Bishop Zhan were both ordained without a papal mandate.

John Worthley, a former deputy chancellor of Seton Hall University in New Jersey and an expert on the Church in China, described their visit as a “holy pilgrimage to seek reconciliation with the universal Church.”

He said that a senior American bishop was given a bible, bearing a message signed by all three bishops saying, “We love you, we pray for you, we wait for you in China,” to present to Pope Francis (Sunday Examiner, 4 October 2015).

A Chinese researcher said at the time that he anticipates the Vatican would be more likely to want to pardon the illicit bishops serving on the bishops’ conference, even though it is not recognised by the Vatican.

But he added that it may be difficult to narrow the differences between Beijing and the Vatican as the Chinese would probably want a pardon for all eight illicit bishops.

For its part, the Vatican wants approval for the some 20 priests it has nominated as bishops that have yet to be ordained.

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