Politics

The Vatican Renewed Its Secret Deal With Communist China. Here’s What We Know So Far

REUTERS/Yara Nardi

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Laurel Duggan Social Issues and Culture Reporter
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  • The Vatican renewed a 2018 deal with China allowing the Chinese Communist Party to have a say in the appointment of bishops within its borders, viewing the agreement as a small step towards promoting religious freedom in China.
  • The deal drew mixed responses, with critics viewing the agreement as soft on China and a betrayal of the underground church.
  • “This renewed accord betrays countless underground Catholics who will not budge under the pressure of the CCP. Xi Jinping desires to be the only head of the Chinese Catholic Church, and the Pope allows it. The Vatican will need more than an annual apology and ‘day of prayer’ to justify it,” Jonathan Dingler, communications director at ChinaAid, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Vatican renewed a 2018 deal Saturday allowing the Chinese Communist Party to play a role in selecting Catholic bishops within its borders, meaning the agreement between the Vatican and China will be in effect for two more years, according to a Vatican press release.

While the Vatican views the largely secret agreement as a way to maintain ties to Chinese Catholics and lessen the persecution they face, critics think the deal is soft on China, undermines the church’s authority and is a slight to the underground church, which operates without the approval of Chinese authorities. Only a handful of bishops have been appointed in China since the deal was made, but church leaders see this as part of the slow process of winning religious liberty for Catholics, mirroring the small steps taken with Eastern European countries under communism.

“The Vatican Party is committed to continuing a respectful and constructive dialogue with the Chinese Party for a productive implementation of the Accord and further development of bilateral relations, with a view to fostering the mission of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people,” the Vatican wrote in a press release.

“This renewed accord betrays countless underground Catholics who will not budge under the pressure of the CCP. Xi Jinping desires to be the only head of the Chinese Catholic Church, and the Pope allows it. The Vatican will need more than an annual apology and ‘day of prayer’ to justify it,” Jonathan Dingler, communications director at ChinaAid, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The altar and a painting of the Virgin Mary, known locally as Our Lady of China, are seen at Our Lady of China Catholic Church in Donglu village, Hebei province, China October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Shepherd

The altar and a painting of the Virgin Mary, known locally as Our Lady of China, are seen at Our Lady of China Catholic Church in Donglu village, Hebei province, China October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Shepherd

Six bishops have been appointed in China since the accord went into effect in 2018, according to Reuters, but Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who was behind the accord, stressed that those appointments represented “important steps toward the progressive healing of the wounds inflicted” on the Chinese Church,” according to Reuters. There are still 40 dioceses in China without a bishop.

“The party seeks to hijack religion but it knows if it pushes too hard the relationship will break and the hijacking won’t work, so it’s a balancing act,” Francesco Sisci, an Italian senior research fellow at the Center for European Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, told The Wall Street Journal. “They believe that religion will continue to exist and that it is useful so they know that they must manage it.”

The renewed agreement comes amid heightened tensions about China’s disputed claim to Taiwan.

The Vatican is the only state in Europe that recognizes Taiwan, and China refuses to have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican unless it severs diplomatic ties with the nation, according to Reuters; the church doesn’t view the deal as a step towards full diplomatic relations with China. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 90-year-old former Archbishop of Taiwan, has been a vocal critic of the accord: Zen is under trial in China in what has been widely viewed as political persecution.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a Filipino whose mother is of Chinese descent, told Reuters the church had to convince Chinese authorities that “belonging to the Church does not represent an obstacle to being a good Chinese citizen.”

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry made approving comments about the deal, which they characterized as an effort to promote religious freedom in China rather than a political move.

The Vatican did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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