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 Andrew Medichini

ROME, September 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A deal between the Vatican and Beijing reportedly to be signed by the end of the month signals Rome’s abandonment of China’s Catholics just as the communist regime is brutally cracking down on religious freedom, warn critics.

Under the terms of the “landmark” agreement, Beijing will recognize the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church in China, and the Holy See will give Beijing control over appointing bishops, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Friday.

The deal could still be derailed by unforeseen circumstances, the WSJ reported. 

In the deal, first floated in February, the Vatican will also formally recognize and consecrate seven excommunicated “bishops” the Chinese state appointed to the government-run Catholic Patriotic Church and whom the Vatican rejected at that time.

Moreover, Pope Francis will order two bishops of the underground Church “who have faithfully served for decades under intense persecution, to hand over their dioceses to bishops appointed by the Communist authorities,” notes China expert Steve Mosher.

“Shantou Bishop Zhuang Jianjian has been ordered to retire, a decision that has caused enormous pain to the local Church, while Mindong Bishop Guo Xijin has been told that he will be made an ‘auxiliary’ of the Shantou diocese he has long headed,” Mosher wrote in OnePeterFive.

Bishop Zhuang, who has been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese government, reportedly burst into tears upon hearing the news in February that he would have to hand over his flock to a schismatic, state-appointed bishop. 

Vatican ‘giving up something for nothing’

Mosher, the President of the Population Research Institute, excoriated the agreement.

“From my position as a long-time observer of the machinations of the Chinese Party-State, this seems like a bad deal,” wrote Mosher, the first Westerner to expose the country’s brutal one-child policy in the 1980s, and author of the 2017 Bully of Asia, an analysis of China’s threat to the free world. 

“The pope is ceding his very real authority to name bishops to China’s Communist authorities in return for the promise of symbolic recognition as the titular head of all Catholics in China.  Might he not be giving up something for nothing?”

Under the deal, the Pope has power to veto Beijing’s proposed candidates for bishops, but Beijing will be able to limit that, Mosher stressed.

He quoted a Chinese source stating in 2016 that if the Pope keeps refusing candidates, “We may have to appoint bishops unapproved by the pontiff after a set number of rounds of negotiations. Such bishops may not be legitimate under the Church doctrine, but they can still give Church services to Chinese Catholics.”

“This means that at the end of the day, it is the communist authorities, and not Pope Francis, who will have the final say over who becomes a bishop in the Chinese Catholic Church,” Mosher observed.

So concerned was Mosher by the proposed agreement he traveled to the Vatican in June to speak to officials, one of whom told him the Holy See’s goal is to avoid schism.

“The problem with this belief is that the Patriotic Church is already in schism,” Mosher wrote then. “In fact, it was to create just such a schism that the Communist Party established the Patriotic church in 1958.”

And given Beijing’s track record, Mosher notes, it’s virtually certain President Xi Jinping will not keep his promises, and he suggests Vatican officials who think he will are naive.

Naive Vatican officials 

That naiveté appears to extend to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who infamously remarked in February: “Right now, those who are best at implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”  

It also may extend to now-disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who, as one of Pope Francis’s advisors, may have helped in smoothing the ground for the coming deal.

McCarrick, who has been creditably accused of sexual abusing minors as well as seminarians and young priests, has been a frequent flyer to China, most recently in February 2016. He told Global Times he was not visiting in his “official capacity,” but, reported the Global Times, “his trip has shown that ties are growing more comfortable.”

On previous visits, McCarrick met with Wang Zuo’an, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and late bishop Fu Tieshan, former president of Bishop Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), an organization the Holy See does not recognize, Global Times reported.

“A lot of things that China worries about, [Pope Francis] worries about, about the care of poor, older people, children, our civilization and especially the ecology,” McCarrick told Global Times.

“I see a lot of things happening that would really open many doors because President Xi and his government is concerned about things that Pope Francis concerned about.”

Xi Jinping persecuting practice of religion

Many Western sources agree with Mosher that Xi Jinping is ruthlessly intent on abolishing what religious freedom there is in China, and won’t cede any authority to the Vatican.

“In practice, China’s Communist Party is unlikely to give up control over any religion, even Catholicism, which has relatively few adherents in China,” the WSJ notes.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a program to ‘Sinicize’ all religions to make sure they don’t offer alternate viewpoints to the Communist Party.”

That was echoed by Forbes contributor Olivia Enos, who pointed out religious persecution has risen notably since last October’s Party congress.

“Finalizing a deal now would send the message that the Vatican is willing to turn a blind eye to Chinese threats to religious freedom—including the persecution of Catholics,” wrote Enos.

The deal would also have serious implications for Taiwan, “known for respecting religious freedom,” she added.

Under the One China policy, Beijing would likely require the Vatican to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China, leaving Taiwan bereft of its last European ally, Enos explained.

Perhaps the fiercest critic of the imminent agreement is Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong, who strongly criticized Pope Francis and his advisors when the deal was first brokered for betraying faithful Catholics in China’s persecuted underground Church.

“They are delivering the whole administration of the Church into the hands of the so-called ‘Patriotic Association,’ which is just a puppet in the hands of the government,” Zen told EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo. 

“And so it’s a complete surrender. It’s incredible.”

Zen, too, suggested Pope Francis was naive and following bad advice.

“We are very much worried because it seems that the Vatican is going to make a very bad agreement with China,” Zen told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive interview in February.

“And I can understand that the pope is really naive … He doesn’t know the Chinese communists. But unfortunately the people around him are not good at all. They have very wrong ideas. And I’m afraid that they may sell out our underground Church. That would be very sad.”

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