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VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) –– A high ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State  recently told EWTN that the Vatican’s secretive deal with China is “not the best deal possible,” but is the result of “thirty years” of negotiations.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher made the comments in an interview with EWTN, in which he outlined the Vatican’s longterm mindset in negotiating the as-yet secret deal.

Gallagher serves as the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, within the Secretariat of State, a high-ranking position which sees him work closely with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. 

Deal about ‘thirty years’ old

Speaking to EWTN, Gallagher stated that the Vatican’s still secret deal with Beijing – first signed in 2018 – was the product of “about thirty years” of “working negations.” Expanding on this, Gallagher stated that the late Pope Benedict XVI had given his approval to the majority of the deal.

“Most of the agreement was already agreed and accepted by the Holy See and the Chinese authorities already in the time of Pope Benedict,” he said. “So it was only a bit of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.”

Such a statement echoes comments made by Cardinal Parolin in October 2020, when he argued that Benedict had agreed the deal in draft form. At the time, the Vatican was in the process of renewing the deal for the first time.

However, Hong Kong’s emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen strongly rejected this claim, stating that Parolin “told a series of lies with eyes open.” Zen, an outspoken critic of the deal, argued that Parolin knew Benedict wouldn’t deny the cardinal’s claim.

“Parolin knows he is lying,” emphasized the cardinal. “He knows that I know he is a liar, he knows that I will tell everyone that he is a liar, so in addition to being cheeky, he is also bold.”

China prevented Vatican from getting ‘best deal possible’

Notwithstanding Gallagher’s support for Parolin’s claim, the English archbishop issued a guarded criticism of the deal.

“Obviously, the objective is to get the best deal possible, which certainly this agreement is not the best deal possible because of the other party,” said Gallagher, alluding to the Chinese authorities, although not naming them. 

“They were only prepared to go so far and to agree to certain things. But this was what was possible at the time,” Gallagher said.

Drawing from Parolin’s word, Gallagher stated how the cardinal often said “it was always going to be difficult.”

 It was always going to be used by the Chinese party to bring greater pressure on the Catholic community, particularly on the so-called “underground church.” 

“So we just go forward.” Gallagher noted how some bishops have been appointed under the terms of the deal – an estimated six – and that negotiations are “underway for the appointment of other bishops.”

“It’s going to be difficult,” said Gallagher. “Everything is done in obviously in the context of Chinese domestic politics, particularly domestic politics, and therefore, we can only achieve so much. And we can only achieve it quite slowly.”

While admitting that “obviously, the deal could work better,” Gallagher stated that the Vatican was “committed to carrying forward that dialogue,” while attempting to improve the deal.

READ: Pope Francis’ deal with Communist China has led to greater persecution of Catholics

Gallagher’s reference to the bishops appointed under the terms of the deal is in some contrast to Father Bernardo Cervellera, the former editor-in-chief of AsiaNews. Speaking to EWTN’s subsidiary Catholic News Agency last year, Cervellera said that all the bishops so far appointed under the deal had been “president or secretary of the Patriotic Association [the state-approved church]. So this means that they are very near to the government.”

Cervellera added that priests “above all, they have to praise the glory of the Communist Party.” Clerics are also required by law to sign documents promising to support the CCP.

‘Greater respect’ between the two sides

The accomplished Vatican diplomat expanded on his comments regarding the deal, stating that over the course of the Vatican’s interactions with Beijing a “greater respect between the two parties” has developed. 

He noted that neither Beijing nor the Vatican was looking for short-term goals, but rather had a longer mindset at the heart of the negotiations. 

“But one of the things that the Chinese and the Catholic Church and the Holy See have in common is that we don’t think in months, or even in years. We’re thinking in terms of a much longer time. And we hope that, in time, the relations between the Catholic Church in China will be much more normal, much more fluid, much more fruitful. And as we set off from here, we remain committed, believing that good Catholics can also be good citizens of the People’s Republic of China.”

READ: Vatican accuses China of violating secret deal by installing bishop in unapproved diocese

While Gallagher spoke of an increased “respect” between the two parties, only months ago the Vatican accused China of breaking the “spirit of dialogue” of the deal. Bishop John Peng Weizhao was installed as auxiliary Bishop of Jiangxi – a diocese not recognized by the Holy See.

Despite this, the Holy See wrote it was happy to “continue respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest.”

First signed in 2018 and later renewed in 2020 and 2022, the deal’s specific details remain undisclosed with a peculiar air of mystery surrounding them. China expert Stephen Mosher described the deal as an action which was “perhaps the most controversial of a papacy dogged by controversy.”

Pope Francis, in an early defense of the deal, described it as forming a “new chapter of the Catholic Church in China.” Reportedly, the Vatican-China deal recognizes the state-approved version of the Catholic Church and allows the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to appoint bishops. The Pope apparently maintains a veto power although in practice it is the CCP who has control. It also allegedly allows for the removal and replacement of legitimate bishops by CCP-approved bishops.

READ: China’s communist-run church declares ‘independence’ immediately after deal with Vatican

The result is a heightened increase in religious persecution since the deal was signed, which the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China described as a direct consequence of the deal. 

In its 2020 report, the Commission wrote that the persecution witnessed was “of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution.”

Cardinal Zen has also described the agreement as an “incredible betrayal” of China’s Catholics, and only hours after the deal was first signed in 2018 AsiaNews wrote that “[u]nderground Catholics bitterly suspect that the Vatican has abandoned them.”