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China and Vatican Reach Deal on Appointment of Bishops

The church has had a permanent presence in China for more than 400 years, when Jesuits, the order to which Francis belongs, arrived as advisers to the imperial court. After being banned in the early 18th century over the church’s refusal to recognize certain Chinese cultural traditions, the church grew rapidly in the 19th century, when foreign armies forced China to allow in missionaries.

After the Communist takeover of China in 1949, ties between the two rapidly worsened and diplomatic relations were severed in 1951. The Vatican kept diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and often pursued an aggressively anti-Communist policy. For its part, Beijing began appointing bishops and priests, giving it control over the church’s hierarchy.

Efforts to heal the rift go back to the papacy of John Paul II, but these efforts foundered on the issue of appointing the clergy, which the Vatican sees as fundamental to its control of the church but which Beijing does not want to see outsourced to a foreign state.

In striking the deal, Pope Francis did what his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, did not. But he also went beyond their steps toward reconciliation.

In 2007, Pope Benedict recognized the celebration of sacraments inside the state’s official churches, and selected Cardinal Parolin, a senior diplomat, to guide the negotiations with China. When Pope Francis selected Cardinal Parolin as his secretary of state, it was largely seen as a sign that he had moved a deal with China up the priority list.

In 2014, China allowed the pope to fly over its airspace on his way to South Korea.

Critics of an agreement with China are rife within the church. In the United States, it has been harshly criticized by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Opponents have argued that the pope risked setting a terrible precedent by folding to an authoritarian power with a record of human rights abuses and persecution of religious groups.

But the church has been making concessions to secular powers since before Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne in the year 800. In the 16th century, the pope gave a French king the right to appoint major clerics and Pope Pius VII signed a similar agreement with Napoleon in the 19th century.

Source: NYT > World

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