The Vatican said on Saturday (Sep 22) it had signed a historic joint agreement with China on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops, though critics say the accord is a sell-out to the communist government.
The provisional agreement, which was signed in Beijing by deputy foreign ministers from both sides, was announced as Pope Francis visited Lithuania at the start of a four-day trip to the Baltic countries.
The Vatican said the accord was "not political but pastoral". A Holy See statement did not mention Taiwan, which the Vatican recognises diplomatically and which China sees as a renegade province.
According to Vatican sources, the accord gives the Vatican a say in the naming of bishops and grants the pope veto power over candidates. China's roughly 12 million Catholics are split between an underground Church swearing loyalty to the Vatican, and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
The possibility of such a deal had divided communities of Catholics across China, some of whom fear greater suppression should the Vatican cede more control to Beijing. Others want to see rapprochement and avoid a potential schism.