Vatican Wants to Mend Fences with Communist China
Pope Francis appears to be considering a grand compromise with China's Communist hierarchy in a bid to heal their decades-long ideological feud.
The differences between the Vatican and China's communist government have divided generations of Chinese Catholics and prevented successive popes from exercising their religious authority over the world's most populous country.
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The Vatican has conceded that it is engaging with its Chinese counterparts, although much remains to be done before a compromise is reached.
Pope Francis' apparent eagerness to reach common ground with China has however caused worries among some people who fear that he might concede too much ground with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"There is a risk that if the pope moves too quickly, the underground priests will feel the church will lose its autonomy," a priest from Hebei said.
"Some people have sacrificed a lot, and they are worried that their sacrifice will not be recognized," the priest added.
The communist party expelled Catholic missionaries after assuming power in 1949. The priests were condemned as tools of Western imperialists.
Since then, Catholics have been required to worship in "patriotic" churches under state supervision. However, an estimated 12 million Catholics worship in "underground" congregations that pledge their loyalty to the Vatican.
They have resisted state control and have had to occasionally pay the price through persecution and imprisonment.
"We need patience, a lot of patience," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who has been overseeing talks between the two sides, said.
The talks have been sluggish because of the communist government's deep suspicion of foreign and religious influences.
The issue that is causing a lot of friction is over who should have the power to appoint new bishops and the fate of the existing ones in China.
The Catholic church believes that bishops are divine successors to the apostles and thus should be named by the pope.
But China has always insisted on controlling the ordinations, saying that anything else amounts to interfering in its internal affairs.