Opposition grows to controversial deal between Beijing and the Vatican

Pope Francis meets a group of faithful from China at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican on April 18.

(CNN)A long-expected, controversial deal between the Chinese government and Catholic leaders in the Vatican has sparked opposition, including inside the Church itself.

The provisional agreement, which will see the Vatican recognize the legitimacy of bishops appointed by the Chinese government, comes at a time when the ruling Communist Party is cracking down on "illegal" Christian groups in the country.
Officially, there are about 6 million Catholics in China, although the real number could be more than twice that when counting followers in so-called underground, or unlicensed churches, according to a researcher with the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong.
The deal, which is part of Pope Francis's vision to expand the Catholic Church's following across the world, would help the Vatican gain access to potentially millions of converts across China, the world's most populous nation.
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