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How China and the Vatican City will improve ties has been under close scrutiny in recent months Yannick Carrasco Atletico Madrid Jersey , with a top Catholic Church leader recently hinting that talks between the two sides over the key bishop appointing issue have made progress.

An elderly man prays in the St. Michael's Church in Beijing. Photo: IC

After decades of waiting and negotiations, a top Roman Catholic Church leader has publicly announced that the long-running Sino-Vatican dialogue has finally made some progress on critical issues that have held ties back.

Cardinal John Tong Hon published an article in the Hong Kong media on August 4 explaining the Vatican's position on many crucial issues regarding its relations with Beijing.

His piece came just before Beijing and the Vatican hold another round of negotiations this month - talks which are apparently close to reaching a preliminary agreement, according to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN).

In Cardinal Tong's article Angel Correa Atletico Madrid Jersey , he said the Chinese government is now willing to reach an understanding with the Holy See on the key question of how Chinese Catholic bishops are appointed, perhaps the biggest obstacle that has blocked the normalization of bilateral relations.

Cardinal Tong said the purpose of his article was to both dispel Beijing's lingering doubts as well as to reassure those in the Church that it was not about to give up its principles in exchange for opening the door to China.

Centuries-old acquaintances

The Catholic Church has a long history in China. Italian Jesuit and cartographer Matteo Ricci came to China in the late 16th century and through his sharing of knowledge and fluency in Sinitic languages eventually gained access to the court of Ming Emperor Wanli. Ricci was eventually buried in Beijing with the emperor's approval.

Ties became rocky after the Communist Party of China's rise to power. The two sides broke off relations after Vatican envoy Antonio Riberi was expelled from the country in shady circumstances in 1951. Now the Vatican City is the only Western state without diplomatic ties with Beijing.

However efforts to improve ties have remained a constant. Pope Francis has made improving links with China a priority since he was elected in 2013.

According to a July 14 Reuters report, the negotiations between China and the Vatican have quickened since a working group was established in April. Both sides are now reportedly ready to sign an accord although the details have not yet been disclosed.

The day after the report Augusto Fernandez Atletico Madrid Jersey , Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said ""We are willing, on the basis of the relevant principles, to continue having constructive dialogue with the Vatican side Kevin Gameiro Atletico Madrid Jersey , to meet each other halfway and jointly promote the continued forward development of the process of improving bilateral ties. We hope the Vatican can likewise take a flexible and pragmatic attitude and create beneficial conditions for improving bilateral relations.""

Cardinal Tong started writing his article on May 24, the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. He told AsiaNews that the purpose of his article is to help promote dialogue between the Church in China and the broader Church, and between the Chinese government and the Holy See.

""The goal of the dialogue between the Holy See and Beijing is to strive for and protect the rightful religious freedom and rights of the China Church that are written in the Chinese Constitution. The Holy See hopes to point out that the Catholic Church respects the legal sovereignty of the country Saul Niguez Atletico Madrid Jersey , the legitimate power and responsibility of its rulers and its laws,"" the cardinal said.

Bishop blockade

The Catholic Church in China is divided into two communities: the 5.5 million members under the supervision of the State-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association(CCPA), and the ""underground"" church Sime Vrsaljko Atletico Madrid Jersey , which swears allegiance solely to the pope. Experts believe that the underground church is considerably larger than the CCPA.

According to Chinese officials, there are currently 110 bishops in China, most of whom have been sanctioned by both the Chinese government and the pope. But there are eight bishops who don't have papal approval. They are considered illegitimate by the Vatican. There are also another 30 bishops who are part of the underground church and have received papal Diogo Jota Madrid Jersey , but not government, support.

According to Reuters, Pope Francis is preparing to recognize the eight bishops while Beijing is to legitimize the 30 underground church bishops in return. Cardinal Tong said future bishops' conferences in China will include bishops from the CCPA and the underground church.

How to deal with the CCPA is another conundrum both sides have to face. In his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics Nicolas Gaitan Madrid Jersey , Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the CCPA is ""incompatible with Catholic doctrine.""

The most sensitive issue is the future selection of bishops. Cardinal Tong said the two sides are now close to reaching a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

China has insisted on electing and ordaining its own Catholic bishops over the past 60 years, claiming outside powers should not interfere in China's internal affairs. But the Catholic Church believes that local churches have no authority to appoint their own bishops.

In his article, Tong suggested that a model similar to the one used in Vietnam since 2010 could be applied. In this system Yannick Carrasco Madrid Jersey , the government and the Church collaborate to narrow down a list of candidates until they can choose a man that they both find acceptable.

Underground believers

Agostino Giovagnoli, a professor of contemporary history at the Catholic University of Milan who closely follows the Vatican's relationship with China, told the Global Times that the cardinal's article is highly significant.

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