After decades of mistrust, Pope pushes for breakthrough with China

By Lisa Jucca, Benjamin Kang Lim and Greg Torode for Reuters

HONG KONG/BEIJING – Pope Francis is leading a determined push to fundamentally alter the relationship between the Vatican and China, which for decades has been infused with mutual suspicion and acrimony.

Interviews with some two dozen Catholic officials and clergy in Hong Kong, Italy and mainland China, as well as sources with ties to the leadership in Beijing, reveal details of an agreement that would fall short of full diplomatic ties but would address key issues at the heart of the bitter divide between the Vatican and Beijing.

A working group with members from both sides was set up in April and is discussing how to resolve a core disagreement over who has the authority to select and ordain bishops in China, several of the sources told Reuters. The group is also trying to settle a dispute over eight bishops who were appointed by Beijing but did not get papal approval - an act of defiance in the eyes of the Vatican.

In what would be a dramatic breakthrough, the pope is preparing to pardon the eight, possibly as early as this summer, paving the way to further detente, say Catholic sources with knowledge of the deliberations.

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