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Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, meets with bishops of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in Beijing, Dec. 29, 2016.Xinhua/Yao Dawei

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican Secretary of State says he hopes to tweak the agreement between the Holy See and the Communist Chinese Party on the appointment of bishops to the Catholic Church in China.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State for the Holy See, told CNA in a recent interview that when the agreement between the Vatican and Beijing expires in October, he hopes to renew it with some changes. The agreement was first signed in September 2018 and renewed in 2020. The exact text of the agreement has never been revealed publicly, though it is widely known that it allows the Chinese government, run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), to propose the names for the Holy See’s consideration of episcopal appointments.

As CNA reported, “Since it was put in place, there have been six ordinations of Catholic bishops in China with the twofold approval of the Holy See and the Chinese government.”

The deal has drawn sharp criticism both from within the Church and from outside. In September 2018, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong called for Cardinal Parolin to resign over the deal, declaring it “an incredible betrayal” of the underground Catholic Church in China.

“I don’t think he has faith,” Zen said of Parolin at the time. “He is just a good diplomat in a very secular, mundane meaning. He should resign. It’s a complete surrender … I have no other words.”

Within just a few hours of the signing of the agreement, the state church in China reiterated its independence from the Holy See. A press release issued by the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics and the Council of Bishops of the Church of China — neither of which have been recognized by the Vatican — stated, “The Chinese Catholic Church ‘will continue to operate independently,’” according to a report by AsiaNews.

“We love the country and the Church, we will carry forward the principle of independence and the concept of the sinicization of religion while remaining on the path that leads to socialist society,” the Chinese Church stated.

In October 2018, Cardinal Gerhard Müller told EWTN that while he recognized the Pope’s role in recalling China’s schismatic bishops into full communion with Rome, he trusted Cardinal Zen’s assessment of how the Church should deal with the CCP and questioned whether a deal could be made with “communist atheists.”

“I trust more in Cardinal Zen,” Müller said, “because he has all the experience with the Communists and with their lies and the persecution they have made.”

“Surely the Pope has the office and the task to recall these schismatics to the full communion of the Church,” Muller continued, “but the question is, ‘What is the price for it?’ Can we make a deal, the Holy Church, the Body of Christ, with communist atheists?”

Little over a month after the agreement, on Nov. 9, 2018, Pietro Shao Zhumin, bishop of Wenzhou, was kidnapped for a fifth time to be “coerced to submit to the religious policy of China, which requires registration with the government and membership of the Patriotic Association (PA),” according to Asia News, which first broke the story. Zhumin had experienced decades of persecution by the communist government as a member of the underground Church.

Zen said at the time that priests from the underground Church had been reaching out to him because the CCP was forcing them to join the official state church.

“They said officials have forced them to become open, to join the [schismatic] Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and to obtain a priest’s certificate with the reason that the pope has signed the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement,” Zen told the Union of Catholic Asian News (ucanews.com).

In December 2019, Zen declared that the Pope was encouraging a schism within the Catholic Church in China. In an interview with online New Bloom Magazine published Dec. 3, Zen stated, “Recently, I learned that the Holy Father, on a flight back from (I don’t remember where) said, ‘Sure, I don’t want to see a schism. But I’m not afraid of a schism.’ And I’m going to tell him, ‘You are encouraging a schism. You are legitimizing the schismatic church in China.’ Incredible.”

Zen said that the July 2019 “Pastoral Guidelines” from the Holy See that allow clergy to register with the Chinese government were “terrible.”

“Now this last act is simply incredible,” Zen declared. “The document says, ‘To minister openly, you need to register with the government.’ And then you have to sign. To sign something in which it says that you have to support the independent church. That’s not good.”

On Nov. 26, 2019, communist-approved bishop John Fang Xingyao, who presides over the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPCA), said that for the Chinese love of country should supersede love of the Catholic Church. “Love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above Canon law,” Xingyao told the Political Consultative Conference on Religions in Beijing.

The Holy See’s allowance of the Chinese government to propose names for episcopal consecration stands in violation of the Code of Canon Law and the inherent freedom necessary for the Church to carry out her divine mission of preaching the Gospel without any kind of political coercion.

The Code of Canon Law clearly states, “The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints bishops or confirms those legitimately elected” (can. 377, §1). It also expressly forbids the interference of civil authorities in the serious matter of episcopal appointment. “In the future, no rights and privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation of bishops are granted to civil authorities” (can. 377 §5).

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