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MILAN, Italy, October 6, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican defended extending its 2018 controversial secret accord with Communist China after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that doing so will endanger the Holy See’s moral authority.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a talk in Milan on Saturday, marking 150 years since the arrival of Italian Catholic missionaries in China, that the agreement is “only a starting point,” Vatican News reported.
He said it has brought results and must be extended “so it can bear more substantial fruit.”
Parolin said there have been “misunderstandings” about the secret accord and that it does not deal with political matters but is a “pastoral document” that deals “exclusively” with the “delicate matter” of the appointment of bishops in China.
This, he said, was “the problem that has caused the Catholic Church in China the most suffering in the last sixty years.”
Parolin also contended that Pope Benedict XVI approved “the draft agreement on the appointment of bishops in China,” which was signed only in 2018.
According to Catholic News Agency, Parolin was reiterating a February statement by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals, that Benedict approved the draft agreement on bishops’ appointments “which could only be signed in 2018.”
Parolin’s statement that Benedict approved the draft “is significant and was aimed at silencing some of Francis’ conservative critics,” reported the Associated Press.
The cardinal also said that popes from Pius XII onward have sought a path to dialogue with China since the communists came to power more than 70 years ago, expelling missionaries and severing diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
Now, “for the first time in many decades, today all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome,” said Parolin.
Those who know the history of the Church in China, he added, “know how important it is that all Chinese bishops are in full communion with the universal Church.”
However, critics have denounced the secret agreement, which allows the Vatican a say in appointing bishops, as a betrayal of the faithful of the underground Catholic Church, who remained loyal to Rome for decades despite the risk of being killed, imprisoned, and otherwise persecuted for their faith.
In order to facilitate the accord, Pope Francis lifted the excommunications of several bishops appointed by the state-run schismatic Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and in some cases asked underground bishops to stand aside in favor of them.
In the deal’s aftermath, underground priests and bishops who refuse to sign on as members of the state-run church have been increasingly persecuted by communist authorities, and Pompeo has excoriated the deal as making matters worse not only for China’s Catholics but the country’s other religious minorities.
Among other actions, Chinese authorities evicted Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, 61, and an undisclosed number of priests from their curial house in Luojiang District on the grounds that the building violated fire regulations.
In reality, the action was a punitive measure against Guo and his priests for refusing to join the state-run church, and is part of a wider crackdown in the Mindong diocese in Fujian province, which has become a “pilot project” for implementing the Vatican’s 2018 disastrous secret accord with China, Asia News wrote in January.
Pompeo met with Parolin last week to protest the agreement during a five-day European tour to seek support for America’s hardline stance against Beijing, the Associated Press reported.
Pope Francis refused to see Pompeo at that time, citing optics of a meeting so close to the U.S. election, but it was widely speculated that the reason was the American’s public criticism of the accord.
Pompeo characterized the agreement in a First Things article last month as a disastrous failure and stated on Twitter that “the Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.”
He also exhorted the Vatican to use its “moral witness and authority” to speak out against the Chinese Communist Party’s “relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program.”
The Holy See “has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights violations, especially those perpetrated by totalitarian regimes like Beijing’s.”
As noted by U.K.’s left-leaning Guardian, “Since the rapprochement with China, Pope Francis has been notably silent on the country’s violations of human rights.”
The Holy Father also was “very busy” last month and could not meet with Cardinal Joseph Zen during the 120 hours civil authorities allowed the 88-year-old retired bishop to leave Hong Kong.
Zen, who has consistently denounced the accord as a betrayal of China’s Catholics, had hoped to discuss with Pope Francis appointment of a new bishop in Beijing-controlled Hong Kong, under a sweeping national security law China imposed in July. Instead, he left a letter to Pope Francis with the pontiff’s secretary.
During his talk, Parolin criticized the “imperialist” ways of Catholic missionaries in the past and the Vatican’s decision to name only non-Chinese bishops at the start, “a clear nod to decades of Chinese complaints about foreign interference by the church,” the Associated Press reported.
The 2018 agreement will expire on October 22, and the extension is expected to be signed next month, according to the Guardian.