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Benedict Rogers

An open letter to Pope Francis from a young Catholic

Ten questions from a 10-year-old Catholic who fails to understand the Vatican's policy toward China
Published: August 29, 2023 04:23 AM GMT

Updated: August 29, 2023 12:33 PM GMT

Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter's Square during the weekly Angelus prayer on Aug. 27 at The Vatican

Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter's Square during the weekly Angelus prayer on Aug. 27 at The Vatican. (Photo: Tiziana Fabi / AFP)

Dear Holy Father,

Throughout the Bible, we are taught that the innocence of children is to be cherished.

In the Gospel, Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Mt. 19:14). That message is repeated in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

I became a Catholic ten years ago, in Myanmar, because I fell in love with the truth of the Catechism of the Church and with Catholic social teaching. I read the Catechism in full, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine in full, and multiple encyclicals in full. Despite being middle-aged, in terms of the Catholic faith; I’m a ten-year-old Catholic — but a reasonably well-read one.

There is a beautiful innocence about children. But there is also an honest directness with which children ask questions. Sometimes it can be annoying. Children ask awkward questions that adults often prefer were not raised — or which they simply cannot answer.

So as a 10-year-old Catholic, it is in that innocent spirit that I write. I want to capture that spirit as I address the question of the Vatican’s relationship with China. As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Vatican-China deal, it is time the Holy See provided an explanation.

Let me caveat my questions with three points.

First, as a mere 10-year-old Catholic I approach this matter with all humility. I never came into the Catholic Church with the intention of getting into an argument with the Vatican, the Holy See, or the Holy Father. It breaks my heart to even raise these questions.

Second, I am not engaged in an anti-Pope Francis campaign. I was received into the Church 11 days after your election as pope, so I have grown up with you as a Catholic and I have always loved the emphasis you, Holy Father, place on mercy, justice, and focusing on the margins of the world.

Third, I respect — indeed, share — the love of China you, Holy Father, express and I join with you in your desire to change the relations between the Vatican and Beijing. I understand your passion to see the vision of the Jesuit missionary priest Matteo Ricci fulfilled. I do not doubt the nobility of your intentions in China policy — but I do question their wisdom. 

So, in the spirit of a 10-year-old Catholic child, addressing the Holy Father with honesty, respect, innocence, and audacity, I have 10 key questions, which I hope you, the Holy Father, and the Vatican might answer:

1. Why is the deal you have signed with Beijing a secret document? Why can’t it be revealed? Why was the deal renewed in 2020 and again in 2022 without any debate, transparency, or appropriate public review?

2. The new bishop of Shanghai was installed without Your Holiness’ permission. Why did you subsequently consent to this appointment?

3. Why, Holy Father, do you not speak out about, and call for prayer for, the atrocities against human rights, human life, human liberty and human dignity in China — sacred principles of Catholic Social Teaching? Why are you silent about the genocide of the Uyghurs, the atrocities in Tibet, the persecution of Christians, continuing forced organ harvesting, the crackdown on dissent and civil society across China, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy and the threats to Taiwan?

4. Why did you refuse to meet one of your most senior, respected and elderly Asian Cardinals — and your only cardinal born in China — Joseph Zen — when he appealed for a private audience in 2020? Your meeting with him at the funeral of the late Pope Benedict XVI this year was very welcome and much appreciated, but why would you not meet him when he requested an audience in 2020?

5. Why will you not meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama? You are the first pope in decades to actually decline a meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader. Now, the opportunities are fewer as he travels less due to age and health, but would you consider an online meeting with him? And will you meet Tibetan Buddhists, especially the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the third highest spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism, when you visit Mongolia?

6. What are your views on Taiwan, given that the Holy See is one of the few states still holding diplomatic relations with Taipei? Will you stand with Taiwan? Will you pray publicly for Taiwan, given the growing threat Beijing poses? What will be the implications of the Vatican’s deal with Beijing for Taiwan? Will you change the diplomatic relationship at all?

7. You have appointed Hong Kong’s Bishop Stephen Chow as a new cardinal, making him the city’s third living cardinal alongside Cardinals Joseph Zen and John Tong. This is very welcome and suggests your special focus on Hong Kong, but in the coming months and years, what are your views on how the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong should interact with the state-controlled Catholic apparatus in mainland China and how do you see the prospects for religious freedom in Hong Kong in the future?

8. Catholic bishops and priests, such as Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang, Coadjutor Bishop Augustine Cui Tai of Xuanhua, Shanghai’s Auxiliary Bishops Thaddeus Ma Daqin and Joseph Xing Wenzhi remain in jail, under house arrest or have disappeared in China, despite the Vatican-Beijing agreement. In 2020, United States Congressman Chris Smith held a hearing in the US Congress into the disappearance of the Bishop of Baoding, James Su Zhimin, who has endured over 40 years in prison, and asked “Where is Bishop Su?” His question has still not been answered. Was there any attempt by the Vatican to make the release of Catholic clergy a criterion for the deal?

9. What has your policy towards China achieved? And will you consider adapting to a new policy? Dialogue is a noble and worthy pursuit — but what has it yielded so far in the relationship with China, and where does it fit with the Church’s teachings on justice, human dignity, religious freedom and liberty? Should there not be criteria, objectives and terms for dialogue, and red lines that cannot be compromised, rather than an open-ended, rudderless process?

10. What is your long-term vision for China? Is it to see the Gospel thrive and the diverse peoples live with the dignity and liberty they deserve? And is that vision best achieved by standing up to the Chinese Communist Party regime and for the Church’s values, or by kowtowing to them?

There are good Catholic commentators who have raised similar questions. I recommend recent articles by George Weigel, Gerard O’Connell and Nina Shea as a start. I recommend, Holy Father, that you read these and other commentaries and engage with the many Catholics who love you, love the Church and love China but are troubled by the path you are leading us on.

Speaking personally, I love China. It is precisely because I love China and its people that I am a critic of the way the Chinese Communist Party regime treats the people of China and threatens much of the rest of the world.

I love the Catholic Church, and believe passionately in its Catechism and social teaching. The emphasis on the Imago Deo is a beautiful principle that lies at the heart of all I try to do.

I love you too, Holy Father. But I fail to see what your policy of appeasement towards the brutal, criminal regime in China has achieved.

So, Holy Father, where is the Imago Deo in the Vatican’s dealings with China, how can it be enhanced, and how can Dignitatis Humanae be achieved?

I appeal to you not to forget your flock in China, who have suffered so much for so long and who need good bishops chosen for their faithfulness and devotion to Christ and His Holy Church, rather than loyalty to the dictators in Beijing. They do not deserve to be abandoned in the name of open-ended and unequal ‘dialogue’ with Zhongnanhai.

With utmost humility, respect and prayer I appeal to you to re-think, and I do so with affectionate and profound respect and prayers,

*Benedict Rogers is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, a senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organization CSW, and the co-founder and deputy chair of the U.K. Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. He became a Catholic in Myanmar in 2013 and is the author of From Burma To Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church and The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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8 Comments on this Story
T IMGOLDEN
Xi ripped down 10,000 crosses and not a peep out of the pope Xi banned children from church and not a peep out of the pope Xi replaced pictures of Christ and not a peep out of the pope so Dear Pope Francis, I want to see and hear a Chinese pope right wrongs for God, don't you?
T IMGOLDEN
Dear Pope Francis, I want to see and hear a Chinese pope right wrongs for Christ, don't you? p.s. Xi ripped down 10,000 crosses and not a peep out of the pope Xi replaced pictures of Christ with anti-Christ and not a peep out of the pope Xi banned children from going to church and not a peep out of the pope
ABID HABIB
I love the Pope and I also appreciate the Open Letter. I too am confused with some of the Pope's approaches. Where he needs to give his view he prefers to remain silent. I hope he will reply to this open letter.
JUDE DSOUZA
Bold and honest.we must not be diplomatic, but.approach the issue honestly, while cresting a conductive approach I admire the writerURNC
CYRIL
I doubt whether a 10 year old wrote the letter, because if that is how 10 year olds write, then they should be the leaders.
ROSEANNE T. SULLIVAN
CYRIL, it is clear that the author wrote he is a grown-up who converted to Catholicism 10 years ago.
S.SELVARAJ
I agree with this comment
CYRIL
I doubt whether a 10 year old wrote the letter, because if that is how 10 year olds write, then they should be the leaders.

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