While the precise terms of the two-year-old agreement are undisclosed, observers say the pope and Beijing will share jurisdiction in the appointment of bishops.
"The first agreement, signed in 2018, was intended to be experimental, but its results have been grim. In the past two years alone, the Chinese government has raided church services, imprisoned non-compliant priests and removed crosses from churches," David Curry, CEO of international religious persecution watchdog, Open Doors USA, told Fox News. "(The deal) gives the Vatican and the CCP shared authority over the appointment of bishops in the country."
Attending such unauthorized services is strictly illegal and comes with the hefty price of imprisonment – or worse.
Under Mao Zedong in the early 1950s, China severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican, razed churches and deported missionaries before setting up its own Catholic Association. Under this self-styled guild, the CCP retained the right to ordain bishops without the Vatican's approval. In sealing a deal more than two years ago, the Vatican's goal was to take back control of the process.
POPE: GOSSIPING IS "PLAGUE WORSE THAN COVID"
However, the arrangement – both in its initial formulation and in the current practice – has been criticized as turning a blind eye to Beijing's abuses. Those include banning crosses and changing parables to fit Beijing's vision of social norms.
In one case just weeks ago, according to the National Review, a government-issued high school textbook changed a Bible story "to turn one of Jesus's key teachings on its head: After inducing others not to cast stones at a woman who has sinned, Jesus himself stones her."
Critics have also pointed out that the contract is not merely about the Vatican being in charge of the bishop approval procedure but that it has also been put in a position to recognize the CCP appointees as legitimate.
"The current deal gives the Vatican an official presence in the country through registered churches, preventing the Catholic Church from having to operate underground in China. But an official church presence is on China's terms," Curry stressed. "It allows China say in appointing Communist sympathizers as bishops and permits surveillance-state technology to monitor who attends services."