A breakthrough may be near in the long-running dispute between the Holy See and China over the ordination of bishops.

According to Reuters, the Vatican will recognise at least four Chinese bishops who were appointed by the Chinese government without the consent of the Pope, who have until now been considered illegitimate by the Holy See. This follows a meeting in mid-August between some of these bishops and representatives of the Vatican.

For more than six decades the Chinese Communist Party has contested the right of the Vatican to appoint new bishops to serve the 10 million Catholics in the country. Instead China has appointed bishops who have not been approved by the Church, while “underground” bishops ordained by the Church have risked arrest and imprisonment.

The four bishops who sources say will be recognised are Joseph Ma Yinglin, the Bishop of Kunming; Guo Jincai, of Chengde; Yue Fusheng, of Harbin; and Tu Shihua, of Puqi.

Under the draft agreement, new bishops in China will be chosen by local clergy, with the Pope making the final appointment. The Pope will have the power to veto a candidate, for instance on ethical grounds.

At least two of the bishops still not recognised by the Church have girlfriends or children.

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