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Mixed reactions to Vatican-China progress

Apparent headway in negotiations has polarized opinions
Mixed reactions to Vatican-China progress

A statue of St. Peter at the Vatican. An international campaign is appealing to the Vatican not to rush into an accord with the Chinese government over the appointments of bishops. (ucanews.com photo)

Published: November 25, 2016 09:21 AM GMT
Updated: November 25, 2016 10:43 AM GMT

A number of episcopal ordinations are planned in China next week pointing to progress in the secret negotiations between Beijing and the Vatican but there are commentators who are hesitant to proclaim a new dawn in relations between the two parties.

Sources confirmed that the latest closed-door negotiations were held in Rome in early November. Despite a church source telling ucanews.com that a deal is still a long way off, a new round of episcopal ordinations are being set up.

The ordinations will happen in Chengdu Diocese in southwestern Sichuan province and Ankang Diocese in northwestern Shaanxi province on Nov. 30 and Xichang Diocese in Sichuan on Dec. 2. All of them are approved by the Vatican and the Chinese government.

While the candidates for Chengdu and Ankang were approved some time ago, church sources in China believe the case of Xichang was tabled at the recent negotiations.

However, the same sources do not think a deal has yet been made despite the new ordinations, pointing out that opposing views still exist between the two parties.

The deal, long sought after by the Vatican, has been escalated under Pope Francis. It would be for Beijing to accept some 20 bishop candidates that the Vatican has appointed in recent years and 30 underground bishops that are not recognized by Beijing. In exchange, the Holy See will pardon eight China-appointed bishops that have no papal approval.

The deal is imminent according to some media reports.

Coadjutor Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung of Hong Kong was diplomatic in his opinion. He told the press on Nov. 14 that Vatican-China negotiations do not have to deal with all the issues at once.

"For example, if the appointment of bishops cannot be compromised on, there could be other issues to talk about," he said.

In China, Yuan Quan, a columnist for Guancha, had a different view. He said diplomatic relations would have a "positive meaning only when all the major differences between China and the Vatican have been resolved in one go."

Wang Zuo'an, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, expressed concern on Nov. 18 that some religions in China were looking for guidance from abroad, a process he called "de-Sincization."

His speech echoed three articles published in the People's Daily in July reiterating the importance of Sinicization and asking religious groups to "resist control from a foreign version of their religion."

However, some Catholics are worried about making a deal with an authoritarian government that has a history of persecuting Christians. As part of that, an international campaign has appealed to the Vatican to take a "cooling off" period before making a deal with China's ruling communists. 

The English-only website, VaticanChina.org which was launched in August, is "a group of citizens from around the globe gravely concerned" about China-Vatican relations.  

The Switzerland-based petition website advocates a "more orderly and prudential diplomatic process be restarted" without "arbitrary or sentimental deadlines." It also urged the Vatican "not to engage in diplomacy at any cost" with tyrannical regimes.

"How could the Vatican possibly think such a bad actor [China] engaged in such abuse could be trusted? Ostpolitik [normalizing relations] did not work in the Cold War and will not work now," said the webmaster who requested anonymity due to previous hacker attacks.

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