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Worldwide extension of concordats (1107-2018) Worldwide extension of concordats (1107-2018)

Concordats are no longer agreements between the pope and a Catholic king, as they were when they began. Now they are being extended to countries without a Catholic majority, or even a Christian majority. By the beginning of 2017 the Vatican had at least one concordat or more with over 50 countries.

The number of concordats has grown exponentially. After the first concordat was signed in London in 1107 there were only six more until 1700, averaging only one a century. During the eighteenth century fifteen more were made and in the nineteenth century a much larger number. [1] By the start of 2017 the Vatican had at least one concordat with over 50 states. [2] Some countries like Germany and Italy have dozens apiece.

Europe was where concordats began, but during the Protestant Reformation many of the concordats in Northern Europe were cancelled. At present European concordats are concentrated in the traditionally Catholic areas of the south and east. However, they are continually being extended, even to regions with a minuscule Catholic population like Schleswig-Holstein, the German state on the border with Denmark.

Of the 27 countries of the European Union, 15 are bound to the Holy See by at least one concordat: Germany (at both federal and state levels), Austria, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Luxemburg, Estonia (1998), Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and even three concordats with the supposedly secular France.

Latin America now has many concordats, despite the widespread cancellation of its earlier ones. [3] See the List of some Latin American concordats.

In the Islamic world there are a number of diplomatic agreements of various kinds with Islamic States and other bodies. The first agreements with Israel (1993 and 1997) were followed by one with the Palestinian Authority (2002). There are also a 1964 modus vivendi with Tunisia, the 1983-84 exchange of diplomatic notes with Morocco, an agreement on bilateral relations with Kazakhstan (1998) and also with Albania (2002). [4] Cautious concordat overtures have been started with Saudi Arabia which signed a limited "memorandum of understanding" in 2016, on the mutural recognition of diplomatic passports. [5] Another “memorandum of understanding” (2009) was signed with the League of Arab States which curently has 22 members. This was supposed to foster "interreligious dialogue", but the American State Department suspected that the timing was political as "a tangible gesture to its Arab and Muslim partners on the eve of the Pope's visit to Israel, to demonstrate the Church's even-handedness and credibility". [6]  In 2013 the Vatican expanded its inter-regional presence, both in Central America, where it became an Extra-Regional Observer to the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, and in Africa, with its accreditation as the first Permanent Observer to the Economic Community of West African States. [7]

It has taken longer to get concordats with overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian states than with Islamic ones. However, the first one, with Montenegro, was ratified until in 2012. The incentive appears to be Montenegro's hope that the Vatican will help it gain entry to the European Union. [8] Two years later a concordat was signed with Serbia to allow Catholic schools. The Vatican overcame Serbian resistence, fuelled by memories of the Croatian Holocaust, through the same stratagem it used to push through the 2008 concordat with France. It described this education concordat as simply the result of the European push to harmonise the recognition of academic degrees. [9]

Africa, Asia and Oceania are the current growth areas for the Catholic Church. [10]

In Africa concordats have not been limited to individual states and in 2000 an agreement was signed with the Organisation of African Unity (text). [11]  Concordats have also been signed with Gabon (2009) [12], Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique (2011) [13], Burundi (2012) [14], Equatorial Guinea (2012) [15], Cape Verde (2013) [16], Chad (2013) [17], and framework concordats with Cameroon (2014) [18], the Democratic Republic of Congo (2014)[19], the Central African Republic (2016) [20], Benin (2016) [21], the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) (2017) [22] and Angola (announced in 2018 as almost done) [23], Burkina Faso (2019) [24] with many more in the works.

Africa was home to almost 200 million Catholics in 2015 [25], and by 2025 the projected 230 million Catholics will represent one-sixth of all Church members worldwide. [26] On a continent where the Catholic Church offers many services that states do not, Africa is widely seen as the future of the Church. [27] It also offers the chance to cement concordats with de facto dictators, which remain even when countries become more democratic. For example, the Vatican's cryptic new release says that this concordat "provides for the implementation of functional understandings between the Bishops’ Conference and the State on certain matters of common interest". Who knows what the authoritarian ruler of the troubled DR Congo has ceded to the Church? 

Asia is another area where the Vatican has recently extended the reach of concordats. By the end of Benedict XVI's reign in 2013 the Vatican had ties with 180 countries, though the Pope had been unable to achieve the “core goals” of formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam. [28] However, in 2011 the Vatican and Hanoi entered what the Vatcan claims is an unwritten "gentlemen's agreement" on the appointment of bishops. The details of that oral agreement have never been disclosed. However, it is believed to involve the selection of three possible candidates by the Vietnamese Church, the selection of one by the Pope and the approval of the candidate by the Vietnamese government. [29] This amounts to the privilege of royal patronage which was first accorded to powerful mediaeval kings who insisted on having a say in choosing the bishops in their realms. Recently this privilege has been extended to atheist communist governments that only allow religious freedom within state limits. Power talks.

Next came the only two Southeast Asian countries which are predominently Christian. Both the Philippines and Timor Lest got concordats in 2015. Then in 2017 the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Myanmar, and Pope Francis paid a visit a few months later. There he refrained from specifically mentioning Burmese genocide against the Rohingya or even mentioning their name. [30] The Pope responded to criticism by claiming that using the term “would have been a door slammed in the face.” [31] ...In the face of progress towards a concordat?

It wasn't until 2012 that the Vatican finally got a concordat with a Chinese nation. This opening was due to the feeling of international isolation by the Republic of China (Taiwan). The Vatican was Taiwan's last remaining diplomatic ally in Europe. Eager to prevent the Vatican from transferring diplomatic recognition to its huge communist rival, the People's Republic, Taiwan made an education concordat which functioned as an acknowledgement of Vatican recognition. [32]

It is no secret that the Vatican would happily switch its ties, but full diplomatic relations is one of the few bargaining chips it has in its negotiations with the Communist authorities on the mainland, so it is expected that such a move is years away. [33]

China: the Vatican finally meets its match

The agreement with China is both partial (only concerning the appointment of bishops) and provisional (allowing for re-assessment). It can be seen as a step on the way to a concordat with China, but even so, it is hailed by the Vatican as "historic".

The hope of resuming missionising in China is dear to the heart of the Jesuit pope

Pope Francis, a Jesuit, was eager to complete the work of the missionaries of his order who had been active in China during the 16th and 17th centuries. When Mainland Chinese Bishops were finally able to attend a synod at the Vatican for the first time, Pope Francis wept. [31]

And the stakes were high. If the new agreement gave the Church more freedom, it could help open up for missionising almost a fifth of the world's population. Because of the Vatican's eagerness to reach an agreement, Beijing was said to have had the upper hand in the negotiations [31] And so, the concordat negotiations with China continued year after year, while the Catholic flock, estimated at about 12 million, was shrinking, and there was a surge in Buddhism and Protestantism. [32] The standoff was caused by the Vatican and the Chinese government both insisting on the right to appoint bishops. This led to two rival Catholic groups in China, the party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Vatican-compliant "underground" Catholic Church.

Mutual mistrust makes this agreement temporary

However, finally in 2018 China and the Vatican reached an agreement designed to allow Catholics “to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.” [33] The Vatican called it "a Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops" [34] and the Bishop of Inner Mongolia let slip that the agreement would expire in two years and then China and the Vatican would discuss whether to sign a new one. [35]

Quiet concessions to a powerful ruler

"Vatican sources" claimed that the unpublished text broke the impasse by allowing the Chinese government to have more say than was given to Vietnam. [36] Although the content of the concordat remains confidential, experts on the matter expect China will submit a list of two or three candidates to the Vatican – with the party’s preference at the top of the list – to be vetted by the pontiff. This contrasts with Vatican’s agreement with Vietnam, where the Holy See will propose three bishop candidates for Hanoi to pick a final candidate. [VVV]

Vatican officials refuse to specify the exact nature of the Pope's input, and the text will not be published. [35] But if it is indeed limited to a selection of candidates proposed by the Chinese government, then this would reflect the Vatican's traditional willingness to do what was necessary to accomodate a powerful ruler who could enable the Church to expand. According to outspoken Hongkong Cardinal Joseph Zen this compromise with Church doctrine in favour of a Communist government is something the Vatican would prefer to keep quiet about, and one reason the text will remain secret. [36] He has also accused the Vatican of resuming the Vatican's pragmatic Cold-War Ostpolitik [37]. A Chinese Catholic has drawn another parallel, by comparing the agreement with China to the 1801 concordat with Napoleon, in an analysis that is well worth reading. [37] For his part, Pope Francis referred to the "royal patronage" granted to the kings of Spain and Portugual. [38] They were given a say in the appointment of clerics, in return for spreading Catholicism by the sword in both their home countries and their colonies.

Vatican and China have conflicting aims

Cardinal Parolin,the Vatican Secretary of State who negotiated the concordat with China has emphasised that its aims are the traditional ones of "salvation of souls" and "freedom of the Church" -- in other words, creating a new mission field of 1.42 billion. [YYY]

Whether the Chinese government will allow this, is another matter. In fact, just before the concordat was signed, the Chinese government clearly stated its policy of sinicising religion to prevent interference by foreign powers. XXXX Thanks to this agreement China can now better control Catholicism by forcing the underground church to merge with the state-controlled church -- with the blessing of the pope. LSN Within a year of the agreement, two Chinese dioceses had already been forced to join state-run association. UCA In the words of a former Canadian ambassador to China, “China’s Communist Party interprets the agreement as Rome’s tacit approval for the sidelining and ultimate elimination of the underground Church and any meaningful links with Rome.”

In addition to control, there are signs that a second aim may even be the gradual extinction of Catholicism in China. A few months before the concordat was signed, the central Chinese province of Henan prohibited all young people under 18 years of age from entering church to attend mass, and banned the Catholic Church from organising any youth activities. [ZZZ] And withi a year of the signing of the accord, there were reports of children being prevented from taking part in Catholic Christmas celebrations or an annual pilgrimage to a Catholic shrine. And China is rapidly gaining the ability to enforce such prohibitions. It has been testing out high-tech surveillance on Muslim minorities on its western border, and could in the future apply these military cyber systems to target any other religious group that the Party fears could undermine its authority.

In almost a thousand years, the Vatican has never encountered such a formidable concordat partner as China.


1. "Concordat", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908.

2. By early in 2012 there were concordats with 42 states. "Former ambassador dismisses move to change Spain's accord with Vatican", Catholic News Agency, 2012-02-20. There were three more during the course of that year, at least two in 2014, at least three in 2015, (counting the tactfully named Avenant with France), and three in 2016. "Note on the diplomatic relations of the Holy See, 09.01.2017", Holy See Press Office, 2017-01.09.

3. "The numerous concordats concluded towards the middle of the 19th century with several of the South American republics either have not come into force or have been denounced and replaced by a more or less pacific modus vivendi."
"19th-century concordats", Volume 6, Page 834 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

4. Gianni Cardinale, "Diplomacy between the cross and the crescent", [subtitle: "Almost all the Islamic countries have an apostolic nuncio already. Ten Muslim States, however, are missing from the list. For the moment"], 30 Days, October 2006.

5. "Vatican and United Arab Emirates sign diplomatic agreement", Vatican Radio, 2016-09-15.

6. "Vatican and Arab League sign agreement to promote peace and dialogue", 2009-04-24
Canonical ID: 09VATICAN60_a

7. "Pope Francis' Address to Diplomatic Corps", Zenit, 2014-01-13.

8. "Vatican Ratifies Agreement With Montenegro", Balkan Insight, 2012-06-22.

9. Roman Catholic Church can establish and run schools in Serbia, InSerbia News, 2015-01-15

10. "Number of Priests Worldwide Continues Steady Increase", Zenit, 2012-03-12.

11. Cooperation Agreement between the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Holy See, 2000-10-19.

12. "Pope Receives President of Gabon", Vatican Information Service, 2009-12-10.

13. "Holy See And Mozambique Ratify Their 2011 Agreement", Vatican Information Service, 2012-03-15.

14. "Agreement between the Holy See and Burundi", Vatican Information Service, 2012-11-08.
"Agreement Ratified Between Holy See And Republic Of Burundi", Vatican Information Service, 2014-03-03.

15. "Holy See signs agreement with Equatorial Guinea", Vatican Radio, 2012-10-13.
"President Obiang Of Equatorial Guinea Meets With Pope", Yahoo News, 2013-10-31.

16. "Accord between Holy See and Cape Verde", News.VA, 2013-06-11.
"Ratification of the Agreement between Holy See and Cape Verde", VIS, 2014-04-03.

17. "Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Chad on the Legal Status of the Catholic Church", Vatican Information Service, 2013-11-07.

18. "Cameroon, Holy See Sign Agreement On Legal Status", All Africa, 2014-01-13.

19. "Holy See signs framework agreement with DRC", Vatican Radio, 2016-05-20.

20. "Agreement between the Holy See and the Central African Republic, 07.09.2016", Holy See Press Office.
This was ratified, not by a legislature, but by the acting president, Faustin Archange Touadera, who also gets to appoint the country's judges, including those on the Supreme Court.
"Pope and CAR President satisfied for Framework Agreement between their states", Vatican News, 2019-03-06.

21. "Signing of Framework Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Benin, 22.10.2016", Holy See Press Office.

22. "Vatican Secretary of State signs diplomatic accord with Republic of Congo", Catholic Culture, 2017-02-03.

The second article confuses the Republic of Congo with the Democratic Republic of Congo:"Holy See signs agreement with Congo-Brazzaville", Catholic News Agency, 2017-02-06.

23. "Angola: Catholic Church and Angolan Government Assess Bilateral Cooperation", ANGOP, 2018-05-07.,3afad175-bd56-4aed-839c-47f4b7e66ca7.html

24. "Agreement between Holy See and Burkina Faso comes into effect", Vatican News, 7 September 2020-09-07.

25. "Africa’s Catholic population has grown by 238 per cent since 1980", Catholic Herald, 2015-06-03.

26. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 2011, p. 73.

27. Adam Nossiter, "Church Helps Fill a Void in Africa", New York Times, 2013-02-23.

28. Edward Pentin, "The Pope as Diplomat", Foreign Affairs, 2013-02-27.

29. "Vatican-China deal must be implemented, Parolin says", CNA, 2019-03-01.

30. "In Myanmar, Pope Francis Calls for Peace Without Saying ‘Rohingya’", New York Times, 2017-11-28.

31. "Pope Defends His Myanmar Diplomacy: ‘I Did Not Negotiate With the Truth’", New York Times, 2017/12/02.

32. Historic agreement between the Holy See and Taiwan on the recognition of university degrees
Asia News, 12 February 2011

"Lawmakers conditionally consent to qualifications recognition by Vatican", Taipei Times, 2012-06-08.

33. As debate over China deal continues, Taiwan ups its Roman profile, Crux, 4 July 2019


31. Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at Chinese University of Hong Kong, quoted in: "Pope says China talks on appointing bishops 'at a good point'", South China Morning Post, 2018-06-21.


32. "10 Million Catholics in China Face Storm They Can’t Control", New York Times, 2018-02-14.

33. "China and Vatican Reach Deal on Appointment of Bishops", New York Times, 2018-09-22.


35. "The sources said that in the future, new bishops will be proposed by local members of the Church, together with the government and the Chinese bishops conference."

"Vatican defends upcoming China deal against 'drastic' critics", Reuters, 2018-09-21.

36. "Bishops back Vatican-China deal as step to unity", Union of Catholic Asian News, 2019-03-07.

VVV "China’s deal with Vatican faces key test with appointment of first bishop under new arrangement", South China Morning Post, 2019-03-29.

37. Li Ruohan, "The China-Vatican agreement and the accord between Napoleon and Pius VII", AsiaNews, 2019-01-03.

38. "Pope Francis explains the China-Vatican agreement", America: The Jesuit Review, 2018-09-25.

YYY. "Vatican-China agreement motivated by mission, cardinal says", Crux, 2019-10-18.

ZZZ "Henan, church banned for children under 18: ‘taking the legs from under the Christian community’s growth among young people'", Asia News, 2018-04-18.,-church-banned-for-children-under-18:-%E2%80%98taking-the-legs-from-under-the-Christian-community%E2%80%99s-growth-among-young-people-43646.html

"Cardinals spar in responses to Vatican-China deal", CNA, 2019-03-08.

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