The provisional accord could lead to a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and China, following decades of tensions since Chinese authorities broke off relations in 1951.
Beijing’s insistence that it must approve all bishop appointments in China had been a major obstacle to relations with the Vatican, which for its part insisted bishops could only be appointed with the consent of the pope.
There are an estimated 10-12 million Catholics in China, split between a government-run association whose clergy are picked by Beijing and an unofficial, underground church that is loyal to the Vatican.
After the deal was announced on Saturday, Pope Francis recognised seven bishops who had been appointed by Beijing without the approval of the Holy See.
“Pope Francis hopes that, with these decisions, a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The provisional deal could see the church and the Chinese state jointly approve the appointment of bishops in the future and may help pave the way for formal diplomatic ties.
“What is required now is unity, is trust, and a new impetus: to have good pastors, recognised by the Successor of Peter [Pope Francis] and by the legitimate civil authorities,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the second-most senior Vatican official.
China said it hoped for better relations with the Catholic Church while Taiwan stated that its ties with the Vatican were not affected. The Holy See is one of only 17 countries that recognises Taiwan.
“Taiwan trusts that the Holy See has made appropriate arrangements to ensure that Catholic adherents in China will receive due protection and not be subject to repression,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said.