VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The foreign ministers of the Vatican and China met on Friday, the Vatican said, in what is believed to be the highest-level official encounter between the two sides in decades.
The meeting between Archbishop Paul Gallagher and Wang Yi, something unthinkable in the past, took place on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
They discussed the landmark 2018 deal between Rome and Beijing giving the Vatican the final say on the appointment of bishops, a matter that had long been contentious, a Vatican statement said.
It said the two sides agreed to continue “institutional, bi-lateral dialogue” aimed at benefiting both the Catholic Church and the Chinese people.
Relations between the Vatican and Beijing have improved since the 2018 deal. Conservative Catholics objected to the pact, accusing the Vatican of having sold out to the communist government.
Catholics in China are emerging from more than half a century of division which saw them split between a state-backed “official” Church and a “non-official” underground Church that remained loyal to Rome.
Both sides now recognise the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
The deal’s most outspoken critic has been Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former archbishop of Hong Kong. The Vatican says no deal would have risked causing a schism.
Friday’s meeting was the latest in a series of signs of improving relations in recent weeks.
Last month, the pope praised what he called China’s “great commitment” to contain the coronavirus outbreak and later the Vatican’s charity arm sent hundreds of thousands of medical masks to China as a goodwill gesture.
Many see the 2018 deal on the naming of bishops as a precursor to re-establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing after a rupture of more than 70 years.
If they resume full relations, the Vatican would have to break full relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province. The Vatican is the only state in Europe to still recognise Taipei.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall