On September 22nd 2018 the Vatican announced that it had reached a provisional agreement with the Chinese government concerning the relationship between the Catholic church and the Chinese state. The agreement has not yet been finalised, so there are some details that are not yet ironed out. If finalised, it would represent the first coming together of the two sides since diplomatic ties were severed in 1951.  Vatican officials said that it was a breakthrough, because for the first time China as a Communist country would recognise  the Pope’s authority within the mainland Chinese Roman Catholic Church. But there is a high cost to be paid for that recognition.

Firstly, the political implications. China would surely demand that the Vatican should break off its diplomatic relationships with Taiwan and recognise China, which at present it does not.

Secondly, the agreement aims to resolve the long term battle over who appoints bishops in China. “Under the deal, Pope Francis recognised the legitimacy of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government. Because they had not been selected by the Vatican, they had previously been excommunicated. This is in exchange for the Pope to have a say in how future Chinese bishops are named. Several underground bishops in China, including two popular bishops in staunchly Catholic parts of the country, are expected to step down to make way for the bishops appointed by Beijing." There are about 100 bishops and prelates in China, including both the underground and the approved church, and also ten or more empty bishoprics.

China has a critical strategy in this arrangement. It hopes to  remove the underground section of the Catholic church by giving it no reason to exist. “In some parts of China, the Catholic populations of  entire counties attend underground churches, and the party-controlled churches stand almost empty, their clergy ignored.” Pope Francis acknowledged that his landmark deal with China over bishop nominations will cause suffering among the underground faithful. But he said that he takes full responsibility and that he — and not Beijing — will have the ultimate say over naming new bishops. Yet The New York Times was not so confident: “Other big questions remain, including who will have the final say over appointing bishops in China: the Pope or the Chinese government. Neither side provided a clear answer.”

Rome will have to win over skeptical Catholics in Taiwan and Hong Kong, "where leaders like Hong Kong’s retired Cardinal Joseph Zen have vocally opposed a deal with Beijing arguing that the Communist Party cannot be trusted. For such leaders sharing the church’s authority with an authoritarian government 'represented a shameful retreat’. Beijing’s goal in the agreement however, (is) greater control over the rapid spread of Christianity. ‘We’re at a turning point,’ said Ying Fuk-tsang, the director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. ‘The administration feels that the government had been too lax in the past and now wants to increase the pressure.’" 

(Source; By Jason Horowitz and Ian Johnson, The New York Times)

Pray for Roman Catholics in China, that many would find a deeper faith in the Lord Jesus in the midst of this ‘storm’

Pray for wisdom for the Vatican in its decisions concerning its relationships with China.

Pray for every born again believer in China that they might seek only to know and proclaim Jesus and His finished work on the cross.