The historic agreement signed two years ago between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China, which relaunched the dialogue between Beijing and the Holy See after almost 70 years of diplomatic divergence, continues to create divisions within the Catholic Church.
Rome has already expressed a desire to prolong it. For the Roman Curia, the pact signed, on a provisional basis, on 22 September 2018, reinforces the authority of the Pope and the unity of the Church itself, but there are many voices within that community that continue to fire in the opposite direction. For critics, the treaty leaves the Vatican in a position of subservience to Beijing and puts Chinese Catholics at risk, increasingly exacerbated, of persecution.
The “ad experimentum” agreement, the content of which remains largely secret, ran out the day it turned two, at the beginning of last week, but the Vatican wasted no time and announced its intention to renew the prerogatives agreed with the Chinese authorities. The memorandum, which may be renewed as early as this month, is expected to continue on a provisional basis, as it has done over the past two years, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in an interview recently given to the Corriere della Sera newspaper. The official Chinese position has not yet been made public.
The “normalization of the life of the Church in China”, said the Vatican Secretary of State, remains the main purpose of the agreement, although alongside the recognition by the top of the Chinese Communist Party, of the authority of the Pope. The pact allowed the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association to select candidates for the episcopal chair of several Chinese dioceses, whose names were later submitted for papal approval. The appointment of new bishops, argues the synologist Francesco Sisci, should remain a central aspect of the agreement. A former correspondent for the ANSA agency in Beijing, the researcher at Renmin University refutes criticisms of the memorandum and points out that, for the first time in more than half a century, China and the papacy contemplate a common horizon.
“The results were not“ extraordinary, but there were positive points that emerged from the agreement. Seven bishops who were appointed by the Pope were recognized by Beijing and two new bishops were chosen by agreement between the two parties. But more importantly, “for the first time in 70 years, Catholics in China are in communion with the Pope and the cleavages are being resolved,” argues Sisci. “Finally, and in relation to the future, the choice of new bishops in about 40 dioceses is being discussed and negotiated and it would be crazy to stop these discussions at this time, because there are some results to be produced”, explains the Italian academic , in statements to the PLATFORM.
Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, Peter Moody does not dispute the gains from the agreement, but argues that the enigmatic pact had the power to ensnare the Vatican in a cloak of illusions. A specialist in Chinese politics, Moody maintains that the Roman Curia continues to turn a blind eye to the persecution of both Chinese Catholics and members of other religious denominations: “The official line of the Holy See seems to be that the objective of the The agreement involves reinforcing the reconciliation between the so-called patriotic Church and clandestine communities, although what it seems is that it has further exacerbated the differences between them. Another factor – and which is probably not directly related to the agreement – is that the freedom of both communities – and of other religious groups, in general terms – is increasingly restricted ”, assumes the academic.
The professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame – an American Catholic university linked to the Congregation of Santa Cruz – understands that the agreement may have originally had a prophylactic nature. “An eventual reason for signing the original agreement may, quite possibly, have been the perception, in my correct view, that things are inexorably getting worse for Chinese believers and the agreement may well have prevented the scenario from becoming yet much worse, even though there is no evidence to support this hypothesis ”, stresses Peter Moody. “If the Vatican eventually withdrew from the agreement, it would very likely be providing an excuse for an increased repression to which Chinese Catholics are subject. As the saying goes, as soon as a tiger is mounted, the most difficult thing is to get out ”, ventures the author of“ Conservative Thought in Contemporary China ”.
OF GOOD INTENTIONS…
The perception that the episodes of persecution suffered by Catholics in the People’s Republic of China have apparently multiplied since the agreement between the Holy See and the Vatican was signed is one of the main arguments of those who criticize the Holy See’s leniency, but it is not the only one. Critics of the Roman Curia – Cardinal Emeritus of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, has been one of the most vocal – say they are astounded by Pope Francis’ silence on the alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by Chinese authorities in regions like Hong Kong, Tibet or Xinjiang. For Father Bernardo Cervellera, a priest and editor of the news agency AsiaNews, the deal made Chinese Catholics, clandestine or not, targets. “The agreement, despite having almost no fruit, is a small link with China, which the Holy See would like to see extended”, recognizes the missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. “But what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said about the lack of religious freedom in China after the agreement was signed is true and we have documented this issue almost every day [on the AsiaNews news portal]. The Chinese government is making use of the agreement to crush Catholic communities in China, whether they are official or clandestine, ”says Bernardo Cervellera, in a written response to the PLATFORM.
The editor of the news agency Asia-News refers to a text signed by Mike Pompeo and published by the US Secretary of State in First Things magazine, a conservative and religious publication, in which the ruler argues that the Vatican puts in jeopardize their moral authority by renewing the agreement with the People’s Republic of China.
Mike Pompeo traveled to Italy this week, but he was not received by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pontiff claimed that a possible meeting could interfere with the election campaign for the US presidential elections on November 3, but the decision of the top leader of the Catholic Church comes at a time when Washington openly criticized the Holy See’s approach to Beijing. For Paolo Affatato, editor of the news agency Fides for Asian issues, the position of the United States of America is not exactly unexpected. “The United States of America does not like the agreement because, from a geopolitical point of view, they consider it a favor done to China and because, in the context of this global confrontation, they do not consider this step to be advantageous for them. But the Vatican is not one of the powers of the West, as many would like it to be, ”asserts Affatato.
The analyst, who spoke to PLATAFORMA privately, is convinced that the renewal of the agreement pleases both Chinese Catholics and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in China and argues that the Vatican should distance itself as far as possible from everything that can question their spiritual independence. “The Catholic faith is universal. This is exactly the meaning of the word ‘Catholic’. It is not a prerogative or an arm at the service of Western powers. The Holy See works to defuse any conflict of a religious or any other nature. Just look at how this strategy is working in the relationship with Islam, even though many are eager for a clash of civilizations ”, illustrates the Italian expert. “On the other hand, an agreement of a religious nature must not be used as an instrument and must not assume political and geopolitical importance and importance”, he concludes.