After Pope tells Reuters he's hoping to renew the deal, China seems to voice similar hopes.
The People’s Republic of China and the Vatican are set to continue working with the established timeline on their agreement for appointing bishops, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing on July 6, 2022, in Beijing.
The official said that since its inception, the agreement has been “successfully implemented through the efforts of both sides.”
The Chinese representative did not provide any details on the exact dates or terms of the agreement, which have never been released in full. The two-year agreement, first signed in 2018 and renewed in 2020, has allowed the appointment of six bishops in four years. It expires at the end of next September.
On July 5, the Reuters news agency published an excerpt from a wide-ranging interview with Pope Francis in which the Pontiff said he hoped the agreement would be renewed in October.
While acknowledging the slow pace of the bishop appointment process, he defended the line of his diplomacy with China: “When you face a blocked situation, you have to find the possible way, not the ideal way, out of it.”
Zen Cardinal’s setback
On May 11, the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong may have seemed to jeopardize the cooperation between the two states, which have no formal diplomatic relations.
The former bishop of the enclave, a defender of democracy, is one of the fiercest opponents of the agreement. He classifies it as a compromise on the part of the Vatican, which he accuses of abandoning the underground Church in China, that is, the Christian and Catholic communities that refuse alignment with the Communist Party, in the case of Catholics, because of their fidelity to Rome.
At the cardinal’s arrest, the Holy See expressed its concern. The cardinal was quickly released on bail.
Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin tried to calm the situation, welcoming the release of Cardinal Zen and recognizing that he had been “well treated.” The cardinal said the case should not be read as a “disavowal” of the pastoral agreements between China and the Vatican, as the “path of dialogue” is already “not easy and complex.”
Cardinal Parolin is seen as the main architect of the Vatican’s agreement, which some, including the Pope, compare to the strategy used with communist countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Cardinal Zen has regularly criticized Parolin’s strategy, even accusing him of manipulating the Pope.
In the end, the charges brought against Cardinal Zen on May 24 turned out to be minor. Originally arrested for “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” under the security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020, he has not yet been charged with that offense, and faces only a small fine for failing to report a fund.