BEIJING (Reuters) - An agreement between China and the Vatican could be signed as soon as the end of this month as talks have reached the final stages, a Chinese state-run newspaper reported, citing a senior Chinese Catholic.
Catholics in China are split between "underground" communities that recognize the pope and those belonging to the Catholic Patriotic Association where bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with Church communities.
A senior Vatican source told Reuters last month a framework accord was ready and could be signed in months. It could open the way for a resumption of diplomatic relations nearly 70 years after they were cut during the Communist takeover of China.
Full relations would give the Catholic church a legal framework to look after all of China's estimated 12 million Catholics and allow it to focus on growth in a country where Protestant churches are already growing fast.
Negotiations have reached "the final stages," Bishop Guo Jincai, secretary-general of the government-run Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, said, according to the state-run Global Times in a report late on Wednesday.
The deal is expected to address the issue of bishop appointments "as well as issues of shared concern for Beijing and the Holy See such as promoting world peace", he said.
"Misunderstandings that arose from media speculation and lack of communication between the two sides were being solved in ongoing talks," the newspaper added, citing Guo.
"If everything goes right, the deal could be signed as early as the end of this month," he said. "The timing depends on details of the deal or technical issues."
Another issue that will have to be resolved is self-ruled Taiwan, which maintains formal diplomatic ties with the Vatican. China considers Taiwan a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations.
Taiwan's foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday it was paying close attention to developments.
Taiwan hoped that the Vatican could continue to work with it to ensure the protection of the universal values of religious freedom, humanitarianism and peace on the basis of their friendship, the ministry added.
Chinese authorities have detained an "underground" bishop who is being asked to take a subordinate role in the church as part of the landmark deal between the Vatican and China, two sources said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu in TAIPEI; Editing by Robert Birsel)