Under the breakthrough, Pope Francis recognized the legitimacy of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government. Because they had not been selected by the Vatican, they had previously been excommunicated.
For centuries, the monarchs of Europe exercised authority in the choice of bishops in their realm. The triumph of Ultramontanism in the wake of Napoleon put an end to the practice; since that time the Church has stoutly resisted bringing back what the French called “la regale.” It has paid the price for it; relations between the Vatican and the then-newly independent states of Latin America got off to a sour start because the Vatican refused to extend la regale, which had been in place during colonial times.
The ultimate fruit of Ultramontanism, which places a heavy emphasis on the central power of the papacy, wasn’t this but papal infallibility. Given the erratic nature of the current occupant of the See of Rome, the wisdom of that decision needs to be seriously reconsidered, although getting the #straightouttairondale types to do that won’t be easy. But Francis’ decision to recognise these bishops, in the historical context of la regale, is a major move that may come back to haunt the RCC, especially in countries where secular governments like to exercise authority over just about everything.