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Vatican agreement: Beijing already resumes appointment of bishops

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Chinese Catholics attend a mass at a church on Christmas Eve in Shanghai, China, December 24, 2018. (Aly Song / Reuters)

Having obtained the help of the papacies to weaken the Chinese Catholic underground, the Xi Jinpings regime renounces the commitments it made in return.

Beijing quietly indicated that he would soon repeal his landmark 2018 deal with the Vatican, which sought to settle a decades-long dispute over the appointment of bishops in China.

In November, shortly after the exchange of diplomats verbal notes with Rome at renew the agreement for another two years, China completely denied it in a dry public display by the state bureaucracy. Ordinance No. 15, New Administrative Rules for Religious Affairs, includes an article on establishing a selection process for Catholic bishops in China after May 1. The document does not foresee any papal role in the process, not even papal right. approve or veto episcopal appointments in China, which was supposed to be the only substantial concession to the Vatican in the deal. It’s as if the deal never happened.

Giving up on a deal with Pope Francis may not be as important as reversing the one-country deal, two systems supposedly guaranteeing Hong Kong autonomy after UK cities return to China, but this reveals the peril of international partnerships with Beijing.

In October, when the two-year renewal of the agreement was announced, the Vatican reported that the results achieved so far under the agreement were the appointment of two new bishops who had papal approval. His press release hailed the appointments as a good start. Through the implementation of the Accord, there will be no illegitimate ordinations, the statement said, before expressing joy that the Chinese Church will experience unity again. Ordinance No. 15 now casts serious doubt on these allegations.

So far, the Vatican has not commented on China as a staggering betrayal. On February 11, the magazine Bitter Winter translated the document in English, allowing the Catholic news agency to to summarize the process they establish: the state-led Catholic Church of China and the bishops’ conference will select, approve, and ordain episcopal candidates without mentioning the involvement of the Vatican in the process.

Significantly, the new rules require the clergy to adhere to the principle of an independent and self-governing religion in China. This language is part of a long-standing clause in the so-called Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church (CPCC) membership pledge, which bishops and priests are required to sign to obtain a license for the ministry. This means, in practical terms, that the Chinese clergy must be truly independent of the Vatican and, therefore, must be apostates. In 2019, the Vatican offered guidelines, outside the framework of the agreements, to reject the clause. Father Huang Jintong, a priest from Fujian, was detained by police and tortured for four days for following Vatican advice.

The new rules state that the clergy aligned with the CPCC actively support the ruling Communist Party. Article 3 obliges them to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system, as well as to practice the core values ​​of socialism. The rules also require the clergy to promote social harmony, whereby Beijing signifies conformity of thought. In other words, the rules aim to turn churches into another arm of the Chinese authoritarian regime.

Enforcement is ensured by a rule requiring that people entering churches be regulated by strict screening, identity verification and registration. Registration must be tracked in a new government database that lists names of legal clergy and regulates their behavior through a system of rewards and punishments.

Catholicism has deep historical roots in China. Introduced to the country by the 16th century Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, it is one of the five state-recognized religions and China estimates that 12 million Catholics are not subject to accusations of separatism or terrorism, like many other Chinese religious minorities are. Instead, the CCP views Catholicism with suspicion, as a belief system imported from the West, and aims to either co-opt religion through the party-controlled Patriotic Church or eradicate it altogether.

The appointment of bishops, the Vatican explained in its declaration on the renewal of the 2018 accords, is essential to guarantee the ordinary life of the Church in China. While both sides have agreed to keep the text confidential, the Vatican has been clear on the importance of a papal role in this process.

As the Catholic News Service reported, Pope Francis told reporters in September 2018 that the agreement contemplates a dialogue on potential candidates. The question is driven by dialogue. But the appointment is made by Rome; the meeting is by the Pope. It’s clear. The Vatican revealed that the fundamental teaching of the Church on the particular role of the Supreme Pontiff within the Episcopal College and in the appointment of bishops itself, inspired the negotiations and was a point of reference in the drafting of the text of the agreement. This helps ensure that all Catholic congregations in China will be unified behind the Pope.

With Pope Franciss’ approval, Vatican diplomats pursued a bilateral deal, taking advantage of the Holy See’s status as a sovereign state. The Vatican has admitted that the deal will relate exclusively to episcopal appointments. He would refrain from pressuring Beijing on the status of the underground, non-CPCC Catholic Church, the ban on religion for young people, the state’s destruction of many Marian churches and shrines, its efforts to reinterpret the Bible, and a host of other humans. rights crises. He could live with Communist administrative control of his churches, as he did in the Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War. And, as a precondition to the deal, Pope Francis was prepared to lift previous excommunications of seven government-appointed bishops. The agreement was signed in September 2018, provisionally for two years. As recently as October 2020, the Vatican declared itself satisfied with its progress and optimistically characterized it as first and foremost the point of departure for broader and more far-sighted agreements.

China was willing to make this deal for one simple reason: it wanted the Vatican’s help in eliminating the underground Catholic Church, and had the clout to secure the concession. The CCP-controlled Patriotic Church was to be the institution in which Chinese Catholic unification would take place, with the blessing of the popes. After the deal, Chinese authorities rounded up underground Catholic clergy, warning they would challenge the Pope if they continued to baptize, ordain new clergy and pray in unregistered churches. The Chinese Catholic underground might resist being officially labeled illegal or counter-revolutionary; he survived fierce persecution as an enemy of the state during Maos’ Cultural Revolution. But he could not resist the fault of the Pope. Conscientious objectors of underground clergy felt compelled to end their active ministry and return to their families, as Bishop Vincent Guo from Mindong did last year.

Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has warned that the 2018 deal will kill underground Catholics in mainland China, and his warning now appears to have been upheld. The underground has been weakened enough that Beijing, considering that the agreement has achieved its objective, proposes to repudiate its only point of substance. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, stripped of its papal role in episcopal appointments in China and with diminished and demoralized underground, is left much more ill-placed to survive intact in the Xi era.

The partnership with Xis China is a rigged game, because the CCP does not play on a level playing field. It honors bilateral agreements to the extent that they serve its purposes; he has no qualms about breaking the end of an agreement after the other party has fulfilled theirs. There is, unfortunately, little appetite among other nations to hold the Xis regime responsible for such anarchy. But as a Catholic and world leader, President Biden should take a close interest in what is happening to the Church in China, and he should use his power to penalize the CCP for its perfidy and keep it at the center before it does. engage the United States in any future partnership with Beijing.

Nina Shea is the director of the Hudson Institutes Center for Religious Freedom.



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