Relations between the Vatican and China have been uneasy since the CCP took charge of the country in 1949. Beijing broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951, and in 1957 established the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a body overseen by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (but unrecognized and at times condemned by the Vatican). Catholics unwilling to cede spiritual authority to Beijing have been required to worship clandestinely in “underground churches.” Since his 2013 inauguration, Pope Francis has repeatedly signaled that improving relations with China is a priority. Last July, the Pope expressed optimism over ongoing talks to reach a deal on the ordination of bishops in China as some Catholic priests and scholars criticized the Pope’s outreach to Beijing. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal’s Francis X. Rocca and Chun Han Wong reported that the Vatican and China were close to a compromise which would give Beijing say over the ordination of Chinese Catholic bishops:
If Pope Francis and Chinese leaders sign off on the proposed deal, the pope would accept eight bishops ordained by the Chinese government without the Vatican’s permission. But the deal would leave many other issues unresolved, including the role of China’s state-run Catholic institutions.
Negotiators are waiting for the pope’s decision; if he agrees, the final decision will be up to Beijing. It would be a diplomatic breakthrough for the pope, who has eagerly pursued an opening to China that eluded his predecessors, though re-establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican—which Beijing severed in 1951—would remain a distant goal.
The deal would defer many thorny issues, including the legal status of underground Chinese bishops loyal to Rome, who currently operate without government approval. […] [Source]
At The Week, Ethics and Public Policy Center fellow Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry criticizes the reported deal as a “disaster” that directly contradicts the tenets of Christianity, and would ultimately lead to the destruction of Chinese Catholicism:
In this deal, the Catholic Church would recognize eight bishops who have been ordained by the Chinese government without the Vatican’s permission. China’s regime has set up a state-run and state-sponsored “Catholic Church” that competes with the underground Church, recognized by the Vatican. Although in practice the boundaries between these two bodies tend to blur, in reality they are very distinct. After all, Catholicism isn’t Catholicism without obedience to the pope. The move would be a major coup for Pope Francis, who has made no secret of his conciliatory attitude toward China and eagerness to reach some sort of live-and-let-live settlement with China’s still-formally-communist regime. […]
[…] The “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association” demands of its adherents the denial of something which sits at the heart of Christianity: supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord, even when it conflicts with allegiance with earthly authorities. This message has been at the heart of Christianity from the start. This is one of the core lessons of Christianity’s founding event, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: Christians believe there are many reasons Jesus was crucified, but one of them was because he refused to bow down to the political authorities of his day. The texts of the New Testament call on Christians to be good citizens of their homeland and to respect its laws, but also to refuse to obey earthly kings when their demands conflict with those of their divine king. Without this belief, Christianity is ultimately toothless, and therefore meaningless, and this point is the crux of the disagreement between China and the Vatican.
On top of being immoral, though, such a deal would also, for all intents and purposes, destroy Chinese Catholicism. […] [Source]
Pope Francis’ outreach to China has come as authorities have been cracking down on religious freedom in China, paying special attention to Christianity as the faith spreads rapidly in the country. In April, Xi Jinping himself urged top Party officials to defend against foreign “infiltration through religious means,” re-emphasizing the need to promote a type of Christianity that is “compatible” with Chinese socialism.
At Human Rights Watch, China Director Sophie Richardson relays the prices that Catholics have paid in China, asking how the Vatican could allow a government known to be hostile towards religion to select its representatives:
Catholics are required to worship through the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), and the Vatican’s overtures may especially pain those who have paid a high price for their devotion to the church. Underground bishop Shi Enxiang endured more than five decades of arbitrary detention, harassment, and torture for his faith. The 94-year-old was secretly detained when he reportedly died in 2015; authorities have yet to even acknowledge his death or bury him with appropriate rituals. Underground bishop James Su Zhimin was arrested in 1997, and has not been seen since 2003. Shortly after his 2012 ordination, Shanghai Bishop Thaddeus Ma Deqin renounced the CCPA and was promptly forcibly disappeared; after four years of house arrest he has re-emerged and reversed his position about the CCPA.
Has Pope Francis asked Chinese authorities about these cases, or those of other persecuted Catholics? Has he inquired about the forced disappearances, prosecutions, or humiliationsof other religious practitioners in China? The Vatican should not take on faith any offers from Beijing until it offers religious freedom to all across China. [Source]
Updated at 13:06 PDT on November 4, 2016:
The Wall Street Journal reports that Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 84-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong and the senior-most Chinese cleric in the Catholic Church, is also speaking out against the approaching deal:
Though he says state-backed bishops are generally “wonderful men” and “very faithful to the church,” Cardinal Zen laments that all are nonetheless “slaves” and “puppets.” Only someone ignorant of communism, he says, could think the nominations the government sends to Rome wouldn’t be coerced. Having taught in Chinese seminaries from 1989 to 1996, he recalls that state bishops couldn’t meet or even place international calls without government bosses present.
Cardinal Zen slams Vatican diplomats who say that embracing the Patriotic Association is needed to preserve the church’s hierarchy and sacraments. “I would prefer no bishops,” he says. “With fake bishops you are destroying the church.”
[…] “Pope Francis has no real knowledge of communism,” the cardinal laments. He blames Francis’ experience in Argentina, where military dictators and rich elites did evil while actual or accused communists suffered trying to help the downtrodden. “So the Holy Father knew the persecuted communists, not the communist persecutors. He knew the communists killed by the government, not the communist governments who killed thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.” (In China it was tens of millions.) […] [Source]