The Corner

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The Vatican’s Deal with China

What to make of Cardinal Parolin's Diplomacy

The Vatican has demanded the retirement of one bishop and the demotion of another in the unapproved Catholic Church in China to make room for two bishops who were appointed by the state to the official Church. It is all part of a deal between the Vatican and the Chinese government that has been dear to Secretary of State Parolin, and deplored by figures like Cardinal Zen.  Reading this news reminded me what it’s like to feel rage.

Defenders of the deal have been remonstrating with me that the Patriotic Church is now filled at its top ranks with men who received their seminary training in Rome and who despise the government. And don’t I realize that many Catholics in the Official, Patriotic association are sincere Christians who want nothing to do with the government’s imposed agenda?

These two points receive little argument from me. I would be curious to know however, if the faithful Christians of the CPA really approve of a deal that included this derogation of the underground Church, or whether they wanted what Pope Benedict XVI said he was working for in his famous pastoral letter to the Chinese Church, state recognition of the Catholic bishops who were ordained without the state’s consent.

The AsiaNews reports the deal includes a mutual recognition, where the Chinese government would recognize dozens of underground bishops, and the Catholic Church would accept several bishops previously appointed by the government, some of them previously excommunicated for accepting their positions.

The Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica has been leading the way forward on the Church strategy of trying to collapse the divisions between the underground and patriotic church in China, sometimes slipping into embarrassing effusions, such as when they declared of Church State relations that, “the position of the Church is very similar to what President Hu Jintao put forward in a speech at the 2007 Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.”

While I have great hopes for the Church in China, I’m not confident in the Vatican’s diplomatic prowess. And fear the Chinese Communist Party’s promises to “Sinicize” the Catholic Church so that it will uphold the principles of the Communist Party, and reduce any “foreign influence” through religion.  The record of the Chinese government responding to Benedict’s own attempts at conciliation with more provocative appointments to the Church also dissuades me. I await to hear what veterans of these fights like Cardinal Zen say.

But I find it difficult to trust the Chinese government given its history. I worry that a deal will give diplomatic cover to renew the persecution of non-conforming members of the underground Church, and heighten the policy of Sinicization. I also worry that Vatican officials, having invested so much in this approach will be slow to take offense if the Chinese government again promotes its own men against the wishes of the Church.  A friend of mine who grew up in Hong Kong, and believed himself growing up as a witness to a Chinese Catholic vanguard lamented to me, “Everybody, and I mean everybody, knows somebody who was murdered, or tortured, or imprisoned or disappeared to defend the principle that was just abandoned.”

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