ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Francis defended on Tuesday a landmark deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops, saying he, not the Beijing government, would have the final say on who was named.
In his first public comments on the deal signed in Beijing on Saturday, Francis told reporters on the plane returning from a trip to the Baltics that he realised that not everyone would understand the logic behind it, but that he was confident in the "great faith" of Chinese Catholics.
"It's not (that the government) names them. It is a dialogue. But it is the pope who will appoint them. Let that be clear," he said of the deal, which was more than 10 years in the making.
The deal gives the Vatican a long-desired say in the appointment of bishops in China, though critics have labelled the deal a sellout to the Communist government.
China's approximately 12 million Catholics have been split between an underground Church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
The Vatican said failure to reach a deal could have led to a schism between Chinese Catholics that would have been difficult to heal in the future.
"I think of the endurance of the Catholics who suffered. It is true that they will suffer. There is always suffering in an accord, but they have great faith," the pope said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)