(LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican has once again extended its agreement with the Chinese Communist Party – said to govern the appointment of bishops – for another two years. And I am at a loss to explain why.
In signing the original agreement, Pope Francis made no secret of what he hoped the results of his negotiations with the Chinese Communist Party would be. Four years later, however, it is patently obvious that, not only have these goals not been reached, but also that they are farther away than ever.
In his September 26, 2018 letter to China’s Catholics, the Pope wrote that the agreement with China was intended to provide “good shepherds” for preaching the Gospel in China and “reestablishing full and visible unity in the Church.”
Now it must be said that these are both laudable goals. The ranks of good bishops in China had thinned over the years as they were imprisoned by the CCP or died, and the number of empty sees was growing alarmingly. Eight bishops had been illicitly “ordained” by the Patriotic Association, threatening to break the chain of apostolic succession stretching back through the centuries to the original apostles.
The increasingly shepherd-less Church itself was also deeply divided between the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Underground Church, so much so that many in the Underground Church wanted absolutely nothing to do with CCPA, its priests, or bishops. Their primary loyalties, the faithful believed, were to the Chinese Communist Party.
Seeking to reassure these millions of faithful Catholics, Cardinal Filoni, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, promised at the outset that neither the agreement, nor Chinese law, required underground Catholics to join the CCPA.
Yet that is exactly what has happened. Primarily because the text of the agreement is secret, its terms can be – and in fact are – misrepresented by the Communist authorities to Chinese Catholics as a virtual order from the Vatican to join the CCPA. And the pressure has grown so intense that Francis Shuxin An, the official bishop of Baoding, China, has threatened to deny the sacraments to anyone who does not join the CCPA.
In other words, the Sino-Vatican Agreement has enabled Communist authorities to enlist the Catholic Church and its sacraments into the effort to control Catholics. Surely this is not the outcome that the Pope intended.
In its other purpose – the appointment of bishops – the agreement has disappointed as well. Prior to signing the agreement, and to ensure apostolic succession, Pope Francis even recognized seven of the bishops who had been illicitly ordained. (The eighth had died.)
The pace at which new bishops have been appointed, however, has been disappointingly slow. Over the past four year, only six bishops have been nominated by the CCP and confirmed by Pope Francis. That is an average of only one or two bishops a year.
Bear in mind that of the 104 CCP-defined dioceses in China at least 36 remain without bishops. Most of the rest are headed by bishops who are rapidly approaching, if not well beyond, retirement age. The acceptance by the Vatican of one or two CCP-nominated bishops each year will not begin to offset the ongoing attrition in their ranks, much less begin to fill the dozens of empty sees.
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Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, was arrested by the pro-China security police in Hong Kong in a major escalation of intimidation against pro-freedom activists in the region.
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Cardinal Zen has since been released, but his passport was confiscated to prevent him leaving Hong Kong.
The arrest was made possible under the terms of Hong Kong’s draconian national security law, passed in 2020, which Zen warned would be used to silence the Church.
The outspoken cardinal previously confessed that he was prepared to go to prison under the terms of the new law, saying, “If right and proper words were considered against their law, I will endure all the suing, trials, and arrests.”
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The people of Hong Kong, including Cardinal Zen, have lived under the shadow of Beijing since 1997, and know personally how oppressive Chinese Communist Party rule is.
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If the criterion by which we should evaluate the success of the Sino-Vatican Agreement is the appointment of “good shepherds” to fill China’s empty sees, then to date it has been a failure. This is true even leaving aside the question of the where the primary loyalty of the new bishops lies.
To this China watcher, it appears to be being used by the CCP to accomplish the slow decapitation of the Catholic Church in China.
Pope Francis’s reaction to the lack of progress was to suggest that the Chinese people lack a sense of urgency. “The bilateral Vatican-Chinese commission is going well,” he said in September, “slowly, because the Chinese pace is slow, they have an eternity to go forward: they are a people of endless patience.”
Of course, the Vatican is not negotiating with “the Chinese people,” but rather with the Chinese Communist Party, whose leader, Xi Jinping, is a brutal dictator cut from the same cloth as Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. And Xi is not a man of “endless patience,” especially where religion is concerned.
In fact, as he made clear in a speech on religion last December, he intends to bring every religion in China – Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Taoist, and Buddhist – under the direct control of the CCP, and make them serve its purposes. Any religion that does not teach its members to love the Party and socialism is a “backward” religion engaged in “illegal religious activities,” Xi said, and will be stamped out. Religions should only conduct their activities in approved places of worship, and must not interfere with social life or the education of the young.
It goes without saying that Xi Jinping intends to crush the Underground Church, and is using the Sino-Vatican Agreement for this purpose. But it is also clear that, by preventing the faith from being passed on to the next generation, he intends the same fate for Catholicism in general. In the meantime, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will be used to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s political goals and ideology, as well as “Core Leader” Xi himself.
The Sino-Vatican Agreement, instead of leading to a new birth of religious freedom for Catholics in China, is instead being used by the CCP for its own purposes.
And these are, it is now clear, to decapitate the Church hierarchy by slow-rolling the appointment of bishops, while at the same time slowly strangling Catholicism itself out of existence.
Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of the newly published The Politically Incorrect Guide to Pandemics.