The Vatican and the Chinese government reached an agreement regarding the recognition of Chinese Catholic bishops, ending a years-long debate over which power had the authority to appoint bishops in China.
Vatican officials told The New York Times a provisional deal was struck Saturday that included the recognition by Pope Francis of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government who were previously excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
It was not clear initially whether the deal allowed for China's government to appoint bishops in the future, but Vatican officials told the Times that it included the recognition of the Pope as the undisputed leader of the Catholic Church in China.
"Today in Beijing, a Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops was signed by the Holy See and the People's Republic of China, in the hope that it will contribute positively to the life of the Church in China, the good of the Chinese people and peace in the world," read a statement on the Vatican's news site.
The status of around "30 "underground" bishops loyal to Pope Francis but not recognized by the Chinese government was also unclear.
A Vatican spokesman travelling with the Pope told the Times the aim of the deal was "allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.”
An archbishop in Beijing told the Times when pressed about the authority over appointing bishops in China only that “the Holy Father gets to say something about the appointment of bishops," adding that the deal would allow “the intervention of the Holy Father for sure.”
China's Communist Party cracked down on religious groups, including Catholics, in the 1950s after taking control of the country. The crackdown led to the dissolution of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China for decades.
Negotiations for the re-entry of Chinese Catholics into the official church began in 2007 under Pope Benedict XVI.