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Hong Kong's Bishop Chow sees Vatican-China pact can still function despite violations by Chinese authorities

Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong visits China (Photo credit: Vatican News)

Bishop Stephen Chow mentioned in an interview with the Jesuit-run magazine La Civiltà that the bilateral agreement over the appointment of bishops has not crashed following several breaches on the part of China.

"The agreement is not dead, as some seem to have suggested," Chow said.

Chinese authorities have appointed bishops in the past few months without the knowledge and consent of the Vatican, violating the bilateral pact.

Chow pointed out the misunderstanding behind the breaches of the agreement between Rome and China over the appointment of bishops.

"Discrepancies in understanding between the two sides on the assignment of bishops to other dioceses could be a factor requiring better understanding," the prelate said.

He said regular dialogue could mitigate similar misunderstandings in the coming days.

Chow noted that about a third of dioceses in China have no appointed bishops as yet.

According to Chow, an official means of communication was already in place on the state level for the 2018 provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.

The bilateral agreement has been renewed twice already, the prelate added. 

Chow's visit to China from April 17 to 21 has helped strengthen relations, helping forge a personal relationship between himself and the diocese on the mainland.

"The more outstanding fruits of the trip included the personal connection between the leadership of the two dioceses and the rekindling of collaboration in different areas," he said.

"The bishops whom I have encountered during this trip are positive toward him [Pope Francis]," Chow said. "But for those who are against the provisional agreement, they appear to be rather negative toward" the Pope."

Beijing's Bishop Joseph Li Shan invited him to China.

Chow regards Hong Kong as "a bridge church" between the Vatican and communist-run China.

Last month, his visit to the mainland was the first since 1985, when Hong Kong was still a British colony.

Chow was appointed bishop of Hong Kong by Pope Francis in 2021 over other candidates to the post who were pro-China.

He pointed out that there was not an official number on the likes and dislikes of the Pope among bishops in China.

The 2018 bilateral agreement between the Vatican and China aims to fix the longstanding divide between groups loyal to the pope and the official church in China backed by Chinese authorities. The pact recognizes the pope as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church.

"But from what I have seen and read," Chow said, "together with the attitude of the Catholics whom I have encountered on the trip, I would say a large majority of the Catholics in China are loyal to Pope Francis, and they hope that the provisional agreement will bring desirable changes for their Church, including a meeting between Pope Francis and President Xi."- Oliver Samson


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