Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter's Square during his Angelus prayer on July 8 at the Vatican. The pope cares about the Catholic Church in China and his goal is a genuine one. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
The signing of the Sino-Vatican agreement is all talk. Some noted that China is still not able to set a date for signing, causing speculation about whether Beijing has good faith.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regularly violates human rights and breaks agreements. It twisted its promise to allow Hong Kong to implement its "one country, two systems" policy of autonomy. Hong Kong people have suffered for it.
Pope Francis has expressed his concerns about the Catholic Church in China, while the Vatican continues to show its great ambition with its tremendous effort to create positive conditions for signing the agreement on bishop appointments.
While Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 expressed a solid and balanced position of the Catholic Church and its operational objectives, a senior Vatican official has used it to highlight the benefits of establishing ties with China and the message that China likes to hear.
Pope Benedict's words, "All the works are done in China are for the communion of two communities and the communion with the universal church and the pope," were interpreted as a positive message for the Vatican to sign the agreement. But the letter also reminded the Catholic Church in China that "the church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible." These views would alert the totalitarian CCP.
Moreover, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Vatican Academy of Sciences, praised China in February for "defending human dignity" and even said there were no slums and drug issues in China. Right or wrong? Any knowledgeable people could make their own judgments.
Pope Francis cares about the Catholic Church in China and his goal is a genuine one.
However, the CCP's United Front Work Department is very powerful. The party will look at your taste. For example, the church wants to increase the number of faithful on the mainland, which seems to be the Achilles' heel of the church in the eyes of the CCP. Therefore, it believes that the Catholic Church will do anything, including discarding its principles, to increase its numbers.
Unfortunately, the concept of the Sino-Vatican agreement was built on this Achilles' heel, but the negotiation focus was thought to be that "the church can be free to survive normally and to have communion with the pope."
However, under the CPP's totalitarian regime, ordinary people must rely on the mercy of the CCP. How could such a fragile agreement guarantee the religious freedom of the Catholic Church?
One of the terms of the proposed agreement is recognition of seven bishops appointed by the CCP, including those who have been excommunicated. There are also rumors that two of them had children. In addition, religious affairs are controlled by party committees, while bishops and even church members must be loyal to the party. Is that normal religious life?
If the agreement is supported by the pope, underground Catholics who are always faithful to the pope would have to join the open church, which would be supported by the pope. Or they could no longer call themselves followers of the pope and stay in underground church communities, causing a real schism in the church. How could they maintain communion with the pope?
The Vatican is eager to sign the agreement and the CCP should feel that it is certainly within reach. However, as the agreement is being negotiated, there is news in various provinces regarding the removal of crosses, the closing of churches, assaults on Catholics and all sorts of persecution.
You can say that the United Front Work Department is making friends with the big boss (the Holy See) and attacking the lower level (the Chinese churches). The revised regulations on religious affairs implemented in February brought stricter control and monitoring of religions under the pretext of Sinicization and rule of law.
For instance, minors are prohibited from having religious faith, closed-circuit television cameras have been placed at many religious venues across the country, Bible sales have been banned, bishops have been detained, the CCP released a plan on March 21 aiming to thoroughly implement the party's religious work, and the State Administration for Religious Affairs has been replaced by the feared United Front Work Department.
President Xi Jinping has degraded the tactics of the department to the mere exertion of pure authoritarianism. Xi's government has no mercy and respect for the Catholic Church, but instead it has replaced it with hegemonic behavior that requires no commitment to anyone.
But senior officials of the Vatican still do not give up.
John Chung is chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.
Source: Hong Kong Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission column dated May 20, 2018.