True to his promise to mend relations with China, Pope Benedict has reportedly accepted the ordination of a Catholic priest chosen by China's Communist government — a move that would be seen as a concession on the Vatican's behalf.
With Benedict's consent in the mutual agreement, 42-year-old Father Gan Junqiu will be elevated to become the bishop of the southern city of Guangzhou, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported Thursday.
Diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican were broken in 1949, when the officially atheist Communist government took over. Since then, the two sides have long wrangled over the issue of whether the Chinese government or the Catholic Church should have the power to appoint bishops.
The dispute split the country's 10 million Catholics between an "underground" faith movement loyal to the Vatican and the rest, who worship only in state-controlled churches.
China's government-sanctioned church further strained relations last year, when it unilaterally ordained three bishops without papal authorization, causing Benedict "great sorrow," the Vatican said.
Gan's candidacy is a good development for the dioceses in Guangzhou, the South China Morning Post quoted an unnamed Vatican official as saying.
"There has been no bishop in Guangzhou for a number of years," the official told the newspaper. "We looked at two or three candidates and eventually a majority consensus fell on Father Gan. We have made a very thorough investigation and the Holy Father gave his approval."
In an effort from both sides of the row to restore normal relations, Beijing has mused about an informal system in which it could name prospective bishops it knows the Vatican has already endorsed, rather than to all-out reject the Pope's authority in vetting the nominations.
Gan's ordination was awaiting final approval from Beijing, the South China Morning Post said.
The news out of Hong Kong comes as the Vatican holds high-level talks this week on how to restore diplomatic ties with China. The Vatican, which has maintained relations with China's diplomatic rival Taiwan, has said it would like to reach out to China while keeping Taiwan close.
Since succeeding John Paul II in 2005, the German-born Benedict has made improving relations with China a key item on his agenda. There has even been talk of a possible papal trip to China around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but progress has been stalled.