Vatican, Eager for China Ties, Asks ‘Underground’ Bishops to Step Aside

Source: The New York Times

Photo

Easter service at the government-sanctioned West Beijing Catholic Church. About half of the 10 to 12 million Catholics in China worship in underground churches. CreditKevin Frayer/Getty Images

BEIJING — In a move that has upset many in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican asked two “underground” bishops in China to surrender their positions to individuals approved by the country’s authoritarian government, including one the Vatican had excommunicated, a cardinal who traveled to Rome said on Monday.

The decision in December came amid what observers describe as an extraordinary effort by the Vatican to advance negotiations to restore ties with Beijing after a nearly 70-year schism among Catholics in the world’s most populous nation.

“My feeling is the Vatican wants a breakthrough,” said Dr. Chen Tsung-ming, research director at the Ferdinand Verbiest Institute in Belgium, which studies religion and society in modern China. “If they can solve, little by little, the problem of the illegal and the underground bishops, then it may help create a model of negotiations.”

Diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Beijing were severed after the Communist Party took power in China in 1949. Today, about half of the estimated 10 to 12 million Catholics in China worship in underground churches that refuse to recognize government control over the faith. The other half worship in government-managed churches run mostly by clergy members appointed by Beijing.

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