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Cardinal TagleFranco Origlia / Getty Images


VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has praised the Vatican-Beijing agreement while downplaying the suffering of Chinese Catholics.

Tagle’s sunny view featured in an interview with Gianni Valente, director of the Fides news agency, which is controlled by the Vatican. The concordat allows the Chinese Communist Party to choose Catholic bishops, and the Filipino cardinal argued in the interview that the purpose for the agreement is “to safeguard the valid apostolic succession.”  

“With the Agreement attempts are made to ensure that Chinese Catholic bishops can exercise their episcopal task in full communion with the Pope,” Tagle said. “The reason for everything is to safeguard the valid apostolic succession and the sacramental nature of the Catholic Church in China. And this can reassure, comfort, and enliven baptized Catholics in China.” 

Tagle did not mention that the six new bishops are all members of the CCP and had been invalidly and illicitly exercising their “episcopal ministry” for years in the Communist State Church prior to Rome’s agreement to acknowledge them by validly ordaining them. Nor did he mention the fact that these bishops have wives and children and, as minsters of the State Church, answer directly to communist authorities about ecclesiastical affairs. 

Instead, the cardinal depicted the concordat as a matter of “listening” to the Chinese government. He did not even acknowledge that this government is atheistic and totalitarian and has unscrupulously persecuted and killed Christians for three quarters of a century. 

Tagle also ignored the sharp criticisms of China’s most senior member in the Church hierarchy, Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has called the agreement a “betrayal” of the suffering Church in China and a rejection of the witness of so many martyrs who refused to bow to the CCP in their decades-long attempts to control the Church. 

READ: Vatican has reportedly renewed its secretive deal with Communist China for a second time 

Asked how he saw the progress made and the effects of the agreement, Tagle responded, “The Holy See, listening to the Chinese government and also to bishops, priests, religious, and laity, becomes more aware of this reality, where fidelity to the Pope has been preserved even in difficult times and contexts, as an intrinsic datum of ecclesial communion.” 

The cardinal believes that listening and dialogue will bring about a mutual understanding so that the CCP will eventually “understand more easily what we really care about,” as if this were the first time the Church has had to deal with an atheistic communist regime that has established a state church, and as though the CCP honestly seeks to understand and cooperate with the Church rather than control it.  

“Listening to the arguments and objections of the government also leads us to take into account the contexts and the ‘mindset’ of our interlocutors,” Tagle said.  “We discover that things that are absolutely clear and almost obvious to us can be new and unknown to them.” 

READ: Catholics must defend Cdl. Zen by calling on our leaders to break with Communist China 

Asked “What does the Holy See truly have at heart?”, the cardinal replied the Vatican wanted “good Chinese Catholic bishops,” without describing or explaining what he considers makes a man a good bishop. Apparently, he thinks it possible to be a good shepherd of Christ’s flock while currying favor with those who trample upon the faith of that very flock by curtailing access to the sacraments, silence priests who preach the Gospel, imprison bishops, and kill countless Christians for faith in Christ. 

“The intent of the Holy See is only to favor the choice of good Chinese Catholic bishops, who are worthy and suitable to serve their people,” Tagle claimed. “But favoring choices of worthy and suitable bishops is also in the interest of national governments and authorities, including Chinese ones.”  

Whether Catholics having good bishops lies in the perceived interest of an atheistic communist regime, or why the CCP has imprisoned for decades the most courageous of China’s underground Catholic bishops, the cardinal did not elaborate. Or perhaps the bishops the CCP has killed or imprisoned were not good bishops because they unapologetically preached Jesus Christ? Tagle might have a hard time explaining to the underground Church, which has similarly suffered at the hands of the CCP, how the preferred bishops of the communists are worthy and suitable bishops. 

When Tagle was asked about the Chinese Communists’ persecution of the Church, he again brushed over the reality of the government’s increased brutality toward Christians, claiming the faithful understand and are grateful to Rome for its concessions to Beijing.  

When asked if there’s wasn’t a risk of “hiding the problems under the veil of a prior optimism,” Tagle responded:  

The Holy See does not ignore and does not even minimize the differences of reactions among Chinese Catholics in the face of the agreement, where the joy of many is intertwined with the perplexities of others. It is part of the process.  But one always has to dirty one’s hands with the reality of things as they are. Many signs attest that many Chinese Catholics have grasped the inspiration followed by the Holy See in the ongoing process. They are grateful and comforted for a process that confirms before all their full communion with the Pope and the universal Church. 

By “dirtying one’s hands,” Tagle seems to allow even for the mortal sin and scandal of registering with the CCP and agreeing to the tenets of the party, which include the denial of God’s existence and the oath of loyalty to the CCP. The Vatican itself has instructed priests to register with the party, and when objections were publicly voiced, Cardinal Parolin said it was permissible for a Catholic to pronounce the words of the oath and to intend something different in his mind. Apparently, Parolin does not know the definition of perjury or does not care. Nor does Tagle consider that under the guise of a platitude he has justified the sin of apostasy. A man cannot be a member of the Chinese Communist Party in good standing and at the same time be a good Catholic.  

These cardinals would do well to consider that the Church already has her examples of heroic holiness in the countless martyrs who refused to take an oath offensive to God or repugnant to faith. The martyrdoms of St. Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher did not entail the “dirtying of one’s hands” proposed by our new and more enlightened cardinals, but the firm rejection of an oath demanded by the civil authority against a basic tenet of faith. 

Asked about the granting of power to civil authority to intervene in the choice of bishops in China, the cardinal deflected the force of the question by pointing to other instances in the Church’s history in which the church has operated in some way under a civil power.  

“The intervention of civil authorities in the choices of the bishops has manifested itself several times and in various forms throughout history,” Tagle said. “In such situations, the important thing is that the procedure used for episcopal appointments guarantees and safeguards what the doctrine and discipline of the Church recognize as essential to live the hierarchical communion between the Successor of Peter and the other Bishops, successors of the Apostles. And this also happens in the procedures currently used in China.”   

Tagle failed to note that in the investiture struggle of the Middle Ages, in which the temporal princes of Christendom sought to wholly subject the Church to the power of the state, the issue of the Church’s freedom in the choice of bishops was deemed essential to carry out the mission of saving souls without interference from kings in internal ecclesiastical affairs. It was precisely to end political interference within the Church that John Paul II promulgated canon 377 § 5 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The canon states that “no rights and privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation of bishops are granted to civil authorities.” It was the Polish Pontiff’s firsthand experience of the lies and manipulation of the Communists behind the Iron Curtain that convinced him the Church can neither trust nor compromise with a communist regime. 

But even before the new Code of Canon Law, the Church had already sought to end all political interference in episcopal nominations. The Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Decree on Bishops stated that the right to nominate and appoint bishops belongs “properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority.” 

It declared: “Therefore, for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the Church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities.” This means the Vatican-Beijing agreement runs contrary both to the current Code of Canon Law and the express intention of the Second Vatican Council. 

Tagle then equated the communist demand for “sinicization” with authentic “inculturation,” saying, “Throughout history, Christianity has always lived the processes of inculturation also as an adaptation to cultural and political contexts.” How he considered a Catholic could “adapt” to the cultural and political context of an atheistic totalitarian regime that seeks to control the Church from within, the cardinal did not specify. Nevertheless, he seemed to imply one could cooperate with the regime and yet remain a good Catholic. 

“The challenge also in China may be to attest that belonging to the Church does not represent an obstacle to being a good Chinese citizen,” he said. “There is no contradiction, there is no either-or, and indeed the apostles’ walking in the faith can help make good Christians also good citizens.” 

How being a good citizen of a communist regime is compatible with being a good Catholic remains unclear. If the former requires the denial of God’s existence while the latter confesses it, it would seem difficult to do both. Tagle whitewashed this issue facing Chinese Catholics, saying, “The sensus fidei witnessed by so many Chinese Catholics is always comforting.”  

READ: Catholic priest says Chinese communists are tightening their grip on the Church in Hong Kong 

Asked about the Vatican’s silence on the persecution and suffering of Chinese Catholics under the CCP, Tagle denied that the Holy See looks the other way. This strains credulity as Rome has maintained a long silence over Beijing’s numerous violations of its 1997 international treaty with Britain assuring Hong Kong’s religious liberty. The Holy See has also ignored the arrest and trial of Cardinal Zen, the over 20-year detainment of one of the underground bishops, and many other instances of persecution of Catholics, even to the point of martyrdom. So great was the Holy See’s deafening silence over China’s persecution of the Catholic Church this summer that the liberal-leaning European Parliament passed a measure calling on the Vatican to publicly support Cardinal Zen and itself demanded that Beijing drop all charges against him. The EP denounced multiple cases of religious persecution in China, detailing the illegality of these cases, which have greatly increased in recent years. 

READ: European Parliament resolution urges Vatican to ‘give full support to Cardinal Zen’ 

Concerning the Communist regime’s persecution of Catholics, Tagle was asked, “What answer is to be given to those who say that the Holy See, in order to deal with the Chinese government, hides and ignores the sufferings and problems of Chinese Catholics?”  

The cardinal replied that “past and even recent sufferings and difficulties are always before the Apostolic See’s gaze on the events of the Church in China. Even the present choices are made precisely starting from this recognition and gratitude for those who have confessed their faith in Christ in times of tribulation. In dialogue, the Holy See has its own respectful style of communicating with representatives of the Chinese government, but which never ignores and indeed always makes present the situations of suffering of Catholic communities, which sometimes arise from inappropriate pressures and interference.” 

In contrast, Cardinal Zen — whom Pope Francis refused to receive in audience the last time the prelate traveled to Rome  to speak to the Pope about the Vatican-China deal — said the Vatican does not listen to Chinese Catholics, including himself, who have continuously warned Rome against trusting or working with the CCP. In a homily over the summer, Zen reminded the Catholics of the underground Church that in the face of such trying times, martyrdom was normal for the Christian.

The Vatican has yet to make the full content of its Beijing agreement public.