VATICAN CITY: The Vatican on Saturday said that it and China had renewed a secret and contested agreement on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in the communist country.
It was the second time the accord, which is still provisional, was extended for another two years since it was first reached in 2018. The latest extension had been widely expected, with Pope Francis foreseeing it in an exclusive interview with Reuters on July 2.
The deal was a bid to ease a longstanding divide across mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the pope and a state-backed official church. For the first time since the 1950s, both sides recognised the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
Critics, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, the former archbishop of Hong Kong, have denounced it as a sell-out to the communist authorities. Zen is currently on trial over the use of a charity fund for pro-democracy protesters and critics have accused the Vatican of not doing enough to defend him in public. Zen pleaded not guilty.
The Vatican-China deal centres on cooperation over the appointment of bishops, giving the pope the final say.
Only six new bishops have been appointed since the deal was struck, which its opponents saying this proves it is not producing the desired effects. They also point to increasing restrictions on religious freedoms in China for Christians and other minorities.

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