The Vatican is close to a deal with China’s communist government on the naming of bishops for several dioceses, according to media reports.

Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported that the deal would involve two bishops recognised by the Holy See stepping aside to make way for bishops chosen by the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The new bishops would have to recognise the authority of the Pope and ask forgiveness for having accepted ordination without papal approval.

Both articles relied on unnamed sources at the Vatican. Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, declined to comment.

The reports coincided with claims made by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, who said that last month he had met Pope Francis to express his opposition to the plan and to deliver into his hands a letter from one of the bishops involved.

Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou, who is 88, told that he had met Vatican officials in Beijing in December.

Earlier, the news site had reported that Bishop Zhuang, who is recognised by the Vatican, was asked to retire to make way for a bishop who was excommunicated after being appointed by the patriotic association and illicitly ordained. Reuters reported that under the agreement, the government would recognise Bishop Zhuang as the “emeritus” bishop and his successor would be reconciled with the Holy See.

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