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A September 2018 agreement between China and the Vatican on selecting Roman Catholic bishops in China may not be as historic as it was described when announced.

The way the government of President Xi Jinping views it, nothing really changed.

The accord was supposed to end decades of disagreement between the church and Beijing by making the appointment of bishops a joint decision of the Pope and Chinese authorities. A few days after the accord was reached, the Pope declared the agreement a breakthrough. He told reporters: “What is there is a dialogue on potential candidates, but Rome nominates, the Pope nominates, that’s clear.”

Instead, regulations issued this month by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs make no mention of a papal role. Only state agencies, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, are involved.

This appears to be a direct slap at Pope Francis, who extended the agreement last September for another two years. The Vatican has yet to react to the latest news from Beijing.

Beijing and the Vatican have kept details of the 2018 pact secret, but Chinese critics characterized the notion of shared responsibility as a betrayal. Over the past seven decades, millions of “underground church” members remained faithful to the Pope’s right to appoint bishops and run the church in China independently.

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