Pope Francis' Deal With Communist China

Why it didn't work.

The deal Pope Francis made with Communist China did not work.

On Sept. 22, 2018, the Vatican released two statements about its dealings with this regime. One announced that Pope Francis had officially recognized seven bishops initially appointed by China's atheist government.

The other was called a "(c)ommunique concerning the signing of a Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China on the appointment of Bishops."

"The above-mentioned Provisional Agreement, which is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application," said the Vatican's statement. "It concerns the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level.

"The shared hope," said the Vatican, "is that this agreement may favour a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world."

Neither the People's Republic of China nor the Vatican released the actual text of the deal. Nor did the Vatican specifically explain how this deal with an atheist government would affect "the nomination of bishops" in China.

Various news organizations, however, indicated it gave the communist government of the PRC effective control over who could become a Catholic bishop in China. The New York Times reported the following: "Although details of the deal were not made public by either side and may never be officially released, a person close to the negotiations said it would allow Beijing to nominate bishops and the pope to veto unacceptable choices."

What moral and theological qualifications does "Beijing" have to nominate Catholic bishops?

"The People's Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority," says the State Department's 2021 report on human rights in China. "Communist Party members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions."

When Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week released his department's 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom, he stated that China is guilty of genocide.

"China continues its genocide and repression of predominately Muslim Uyghurs and other religious minority groups," Blinken said.

"Authorities," said the State Department's religious freedom report, "require CCP (Chinese Communist Party) members and members of the armed forces to be atheists and forbid them from engaging in religious practices."

China also mandates a pledge from members of the clergy.

"The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled the 'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,' (which) requires all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of 'religious personnel' to track their performance," said the report.

"Authorities," the report continued, "did not issue a 'clergy card' to individuals not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholic clergy who rejected the government's 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements."

In other words, China will not recognize a Catholic priest who does not "pledge allegiance" to the Communist Party.

Is the Chinese government living up to its 2018 agreement with the Vatican?

"The SARA's 'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy' made no provision for the Holy See to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the government concerning the appointment of bishops," said the State Department's report.

Meanwhile, Catholics who refused to bow to China's atheist government were abused by that government.

"The government continued to close down or hinder the activities of religious groups not affiliated with the state-sanctioned religious associations, including unregistered Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and other groups," said the State Department.

"The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reported local Catholic sources said authorities abducted Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Yongjia (Wenzhou) Diocese in Zhejiang Province on October 25 and held him incommunicado for two weeks before releasing him," said the report.

His offense? "He was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized by the CCPA as a result of the 2018 Sino-Vatican provisional agreement."

"In April," the report stated, "UCA News reported that authorities in Zhaoxian City, Hebei Province, closed the House of the Dawn orphanage operated by Catholic nuns from the Sisters of the Child Jesus congregation, accusing the nuns of 'illegal adoption practices.'

"Local sources stated authorities actually closed the orphanage as part of a crackdown on church facilities operated by the unregistered Catholic Church," said the State Department. "The orphanage served more than 100 children, many with special needs. According to UCA News, authorities accused Christian-run organizations of proselytizing and converting children through their social and charitable work."

The Chinese government last month arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, along with four other individuals. "Zen is charged with failing to properly register a protest defence fund, after he was initially arrested under the city's national security law," reported the Daily Telegraph. "The group acted as trustees of a now-defunct fund that helped pay legal and medical costs for those arrested during democracy protests three years ago."

Pope Francis should defend Cardinal Zen — and join him in advocating the freedom of the Chinese people.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com.

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