October 19, 2022
ROME — The Vatican has renewed its 2018 accord with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the naming of Catholic bishops in the country, Italian media revealed Wednesday.
The secret agreement, whose exact contents have never been disclosed, was originally signed by the two parties in September 2018 and then renewed for two years in October 2020. The deal cedes unspecified authority on the appointments to the CCP, effectively guaranteeing that no bishop will be named that does not meet with Beijing’s approval.
The Holy See, which has not had diplomatic relations with China since Mao took power in September 1951, is one of the few major sovereign entities to still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but has indicated that it would be quick to relinquish these ties if Beijing were willing to enter into a stable diplomatic relationship.
The Vatican delegation met with CCP representatives in late August and early September in Tianjin, in northern China.
Despite near universal criticism of the Sino-Vatican deal, from which Chinese Christians have seemingly gained nothing, the Vatican has defended its apparent capitulation to Chinese demands as a long-term project whose fruits will not be immediately evident.
Last month, Pope Francis said that “the bilateral Vatican-Chinese commission is going well, slowly, because the Chinese pace is slow, they have an eternity to go forward: they are a people of endless patience.”
“It is not easy to understand the Chinese mentality, but it should be respected, I always respect this,” he said. “And here in the Vatican, there is a dialogue commission that is going well, chaired by Cardinal Parolin and he is the person right now who knows the most about China and dialogue with the Chinese.”
Catholic leadership around the world has not been so sanguine concerning the Vatican’s Chinese appeasement policies.
“While the Vatican has reached a provisional agreement with China on the issue of episcopal appointments, reports of persecution by the Chinese government persist as underground churches are closed and their priests detained, crosses destroyed, bibles confiscated, and children under 18 forbidden from attending Mass and receiving religious instruction,” the U.S. bishops wrote in a 2020 statement.
Over the past four years since the signing of the accord, only six bishops have been appointed and jointly approved by the Vatican and the CCP.
Along with inviting Beijing to vet candidates for the episcopate, Rome has also encouraged Chinese prelates and priests to join the renegade Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), a shadow church set up by the CCP independent of Vatican authority.
Many members of the underground Catholic Church in China, faithful to Rome, have expressed feeling abandoned by the Vatican. In the past, they have always had Rome’s support for refusing to join the rogue shadow church and have been willing to pay the price for their fidelity. Now, Communist authorities insist that those who fail to enlist in the CCPA do so not out of fidelity to the Church but out of obstinacy.
Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has been particularly critical of the evolving situation.
“Government officials are trying to pressure all Catholics to join the Patriotic Association,” Zen said in 2019, “but this has not been mandated by the Vatican. There has been no merger between the Catholic Patriotic Association and the underground church.”
Still, he said, “the communists are taking advantage of the confusion to try to force Catholics to join.”
“We need to study our history,” the cardinal said. “Why are there two Catholic communities in the first place? There was a reason. The Catholic Patriotic Association teaches against Catholic doctrine and this has not changed.”