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First Chinese TV broadcast on China-Vatican issue reporter, Hong Kong - Sun, Mar 12th 2017

First Chinese TV broadcast on China-Vatican issue Pundits discussed ongoing negotiations, saying there were 'grounds for agreement' between Holy See and Beijing 

Reporter and researcher Francesco Sisci talks about the secret China-Vatican negotiations on the first Chinese TV discussion
on the topic on Feb. 26. (Screen capture from "Dialogue with Yang Rui"/China Global Television Network)

A state-run broadcaster in China has aired a discussion on China-Vatican relations for the first time on an English-language talk show.

The China Global Television Network, formerly CCTV International, broadcast "Dialogue with Yang Rui" on Feb. 26, ahead of the next round of China-Vatican negotiations expected to take place this week.

In the TV program, Francesco Sisci, an Italian reporter who interviewed Pope Francis in 2016 and one of two guest speakers, emphasized twice that there was a consensus on how to appoint bishops in China — a long term sticking point.

"As far as I know, there is already a de facto agreement between the two sides. In fact, with the exception of a few bishops, both sides recognize about 120 bishops in China," said Sisci who is also a researcher at Renmin University of China.

There was a "distinction and very fine line" which says that the pope has "religious authority over the bishops but no political authority. There we have a very important point [and] grounds for an agreement [and] positive compromise between the Vatican and China," he said.

"So, in principle, there is no clash. In practice there may be a lot of problems but it is a way to normalize [relations]," he added.

Sisci in a Twitter message on Feb. 26 also said that the program he participated in was the "first show on Chinese TV on the possibility of normalizing ties."

However, Sisci's optimism met with doubts by some who watched the broadcast.

A Hong Kong commentator, John Mok Chit-wai, a teaching assistant at the Government and Public Administration Department of Hong Kong Chinese University, said that Sisci was just playing with words.

"Appointing bishops and the entire process of bishop nomination has always been the pope's religious authority," said Mok. "Sisci does not define the difference between religious authority and political authority. Thus, it is difficult to understand why he said that the pope's religious authority over bishops in the alleged agreement is already a compromise," Mok said.

"If the so-called 'political authority' means not interfering in governmental affairs then it is questionable because the Catholic Church around the world already avoids governmental affairs," he said.

"The pope never takes political authority over bishops. So if Sisci is referring to this as the compromise then he is just playing with words," he said.

The deal, long sought after by the Vatican, has been escalated under Pope Francis. It would be for Beijing to accept some 20 bishop candidates that the Vatican has appointed in recent years and more than 30 underground bishops that are not recognized by Beijing. In exchange, the Holy See will pardon seven China-appointed bishops that have no papal approval. Another China-appointed bishop died in January.


Limited audience, superficial discussion

Only one-third of the 31-minute program was dedicated to China-Vatican relations. The rest of the episode contained discussions on relations with Taiwan and religious issues in China, such as Islamic extremism and religious faith in rural areas.

The program was first scheduled to be broadcast on Feb. 16 but was put on hold until Feb. 26 for unclear reasons.

Professor Wang Meixiu, senior researcher on Catholic studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said that it was "a positive move" to bring up the topic of China-Vatican relations on a central television network.

"Religious topics getting into a mainstream media report or discussion is helpful to de-sensitize religious issues [in the atheist country]," Wang told

However, "it is a pity that the topic was too generalized and there was no in-depth discussion" on Catholic issues, she said.

She added that it was a shame the program was only available to people who spoke English. "If the show was broadcast in Chinese it would be much more meaningful."

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