Mainland Catholics accuse Vatican of bowing to China

Vatican's effort to renew the pact on appointment of bishops is seen as an avoidable compromise
Mainland Catholics accuse Vatican of bowing to China

Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2018. He is among critics of the Vatican's historic accord with China on the appointment of bishops. (Photo: AFP)

The Vatican continues to make excessive compromises with communist China to renew a controversial pact on the appointment of bishops, say Catholic leaders apprehensive about last week’s rare diplomatic development.

Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher met with Chinese Foreign Minister and State Counselor Wang Yi at the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany on Feb. 14. The diplomatic meeting came after a gap of 70 years.

“We do not think the meeting was worthwhile because the Vatican made a great sacrifice in return for nothing,” said Father Peter, a priest in Shanxi province in northern China.

He said such a diplomatic meeting does not augur well for China’s 12 million Catholics — split between the state-sanctioned church and the unofficial underground church loyal to the pope.

Catholic leaders like Father Peter believe the meeting, sanctioned by Pope Francis, was part of an effort to get the provisional agreement on appointing bishops pre-approved by Beijing. It reportedly comes to an end in August. 

The meeting, according to a Vatican communique, discussed the provisional agreement signed on Sept. 22, 2018. 

Father Peter said this comes at a time when China looks worn out diplomatically, politically  and economically. The coronavirus epidemic has hit China’s economy, while people’s confidence in the government has taken a beating. Internationally, China is engaged in a trade war with the US.

“China is facing opposition internally and externally, which has made the Communist Party restless. Winning over the Vatican is an obvious diplomatic gain,” Father Peter said.

However, the Vatican “has repeatedly compromised with China. The universal Church is tight-lipped about the persecution that the Chinese Communist Party unleashed on Catholics. It also runs a parallel Catholic Church.”

The agreement, whose content has not yet been publicized, virtually allows the Communist Party to choose bishops, pushing the entire Church to be governed by the communists, said Guo Liang, a Catholic in Shaanxi province.

The agreement reportedly allows the pope to appoint and veto bishops selected by the Communist Party.

“Many church members and clergy are skeptical. They see the Vatican abandoning the Church in such an agreement. Is renewing the agreement worth the sacrifice?” Guo asked.

The Vatican has had no diplomatic relations with China since 1951, but Pope Paul II stepped up efforts to kick-start diplomatic ties with Beijing. Pope Francis continued it, arriving at the historic agreement.

The Vatican’s concern, experts point out, was to ensure religious freedom for Christians in a country with a dubious human rights record and a history of persecution against Christians.

The Vatican was among the first nations to offer material aid to China when the COVID-19 virus epidemic broke out in December last year.

Under the bishops deal, Pope Francis lifted the excommunications of seven living bishops and one deceased bishop who were selected by the Communist Party-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and ordained without papal approval. 

In return, Beijing has approved only three of about 20 bishops Vatican named and ordained to join the state-sanctioned open church.

Critics of the agreement include retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has accused the Vatican of “selling out” the Church with the pact.

A monk from Henan province said the Vatican has been making undue compromises. “The Vatican agreed on the appointment method proposed by China. This is surprising,” he said.

After the deal was signed, churches in China have become corrupt. “This is not surprising because the churches have come under the Chinese government’s control,” he said.

“In the past, overseas missionaries did a lot of charity work in China, but now some clergymen only enjoy the money of the poor. They spend people’s money on expensive houses, furniture, cars, computers and mobile phones. Many of them resort to drinking and having fun.”

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