China and the Vatican have struck a tentative agreement that would force China to recognize Pope Francis as the leader of the Catholic Church and view the church as more legitimate, according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal cited two sources who said both sides have come to an agreement, which will be signed later in September. There is still a chance that either party could withdraw from the deal before it is signed.
Under the terms of the deal, China's state-controlled Catholic Church would merge with underground churches that are loyal to the Vatican. In exchange, the Vatican would formally recognize seven Chinese bishops who were excommunicated from the church because they were installed by the Chinese government.
Christianity is growing in China, but the strict communist regime has cracked down on the faith in recent months. A report this week, for example, claimed the Chinese government is destroying crosses and Bibles, closing churches, and demanding that people renounce their Christian faith.
The campaign corresponds with a drive to "Sinicize" religion by demanding loyalty to the officially atheist Communist Party and eliminating any challenge to its power over people's lives.
Chinese law requires religious believers to worship only in congregations registered with the authorities, but many millions belong to underground or house churches that defy government restrictions.
There are an estimated 10 million Catholics living in China. Diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican were severed in 1951.
Content from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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