VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican and China are not about to sign an accord on the appointment of bishops, but dialogue between the two sides continues, the Vatican said on Thursday.
A statement followed reports in China quoting a bishop backed by the Beijing government as saying that a long-awaited deal would be signed by the end of March.
A senior Vatican source said earlier on Thursday that the Vatican still did not know precisely when a Chinese delegation was due to come to Rome.
The details of a framework accord, which eventually could lead to diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Beijing, were worked out when a Vatican delegation visited China late last year.
Full relations would give the Church a legal framework to look after all of China’s estimated 12 million Catholics and move on to focus on Catholic growth in a country where Protestant churches are already growing fast.
Catholics in China are split between those in “underground” communities that recognise the pope and those belonging to a state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association where bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with local Church communities. Under the formal deal, the Vatican will have a say in negotiations for the appointment of future bishops.
Some Catholic leaders outside China, particularly Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, the outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong, has been highly critical of the accord, saying the Vatican would be “selling out” to China’s Communist Party.
Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Crispian Balmer