By THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.
Article Source

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told Italian television Friday evening that the Holy See will pursue a renewal of its secret accord with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding the appointment of bishops in China.

Appearing on Italian state-run television RAI2, Cardinal Parolin confirmed the return of a Holy See delegation from China as well as the probable renewal this fall of the agreement on the appointment of bishops.

Parolin said that the provisional agreement first signed by the Holy See in 2018 with the CCP and renewed for two years in 2020 seeks to ensure that all bishops are in communion with the Pope, fully Chinese and fully Catholic. He acknowledged that there is still a long way to go, requiring patience to move forward and see the “seeds germinate.”

Last September, Pope Francis defended the Vatican deal with China but acknowledged that “mistakes” can be made.

“China is not easy, but I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue,” the pope said in an interview with Spanish radio. “You can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that… but it is the way.”

“Closed-mindedness is never the way,” he said. “What has been achieved so far in China was at least dialogue… some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly… But these are also steps that can be questionable and the results on one side or the other.”

According to China expert Father Gianni Criveller of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), the pope was responding to the frequent criticisms that the Vatican-China deal has brought forth little fruit for Chinese Catholics and, instead, has silenced the Vatican from speaking out against China’s egregious human rights abuses, such as the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Critics of the Vatican-China deal have, in fact, insisted that the situation for Christians in China has not improved since the agreement was signed, but has significantly worsened.

In June 2020, the U.S. Bishops published a scathing statement calling out the (CCP) for its ongoing violations of religious liberty and human rights.

The bishops said:

While the Vatican has reached a provisional agreement with China on the issue of episcopal appointments, reports of persecution by the Chinese government persist as underground churches are closed and their priests detained, crosses destroyed, bibles confiscated, and children under 18 forbidden from attending Mass and receiving religious instruction.

In January 2020, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) released its annual report on human rights conditions and rule of law developments in China, revealing an overall deterioration of religious liberty in China, a situation aggravated by the Sino-Vatican deal.

“In September 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See, paving the way for the unification of state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities,” the report said. “Subsequently, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increased persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy.”

“The Party-led Catholic national religious organizations also published a plan to ‘sinicize’ Catholicism in China,” the report continued, referring to the stated aim of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of obliging all religions to conform their teachings and practices to the party line.

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has doubled down on the “sinicization” of religion, the report’s executive summary noted. “Scholars and international rights groups have described religious persecution in China over the last year to be of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution,” it said.

While the Holy See’s aim was “for Chinese Catholic believers to have bishops recognized by both the Holy See and Chinese authorities,” the report also said that “observers noted that the Chinese government was likely seeking to increase its control over the underground community.”

Indeed, China has cracked down on the underground church ever since the Holy See softened its position on the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, allowing clergy to join despite its assertion of total independence from Rome.

“Although the terms of the agreement were not made public, a source familiar with the negotiations stated that the agreement gave the Chinese government the authority to nominate bishops, which the Pope would retain the right to veto,” the report stated.

It concluded:

Observers and Catholic believers expressed concern that the agreement did not provide sufficient support for the Chinese Catholic community, with one scholar pointing out that the authorities’ persecution of both underground and official Catholic communities has actually intensified over the last year under the ‘‘sinicization’’ campaign.

The CCP subsequently approved a series of draconian administrative measures for religious groups that went into effect on February 1, 2020, bringing religious practice more completely under government control.

For example, religious organizations must “spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party” by educating “religious staff and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party,” AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions reported.

The government’s religious affairs department will assume absolute control over religious groups and “should perform their functions such as guiding and supervising the groups’ operation,” reports noted.

Following the Vatican’s first renewal of the agreement with the CCP in 2020, the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, described the extended deal as a “complete defeat” for faithful Catholics.

“With the protection of this agreement, the government forced the people from the underground to join the Patriotic Association… which is objectively schismatic,” Zen, who was arrested last May in Hong Kong for his participation in the pro-democracy Humanitarian Relief Fund, said.

In his ongoing criticism of the Vatican’s rapprochement with the CCP, Zen has insisted that Pope Francis is “naïve” in dealing with a country about which he knows little.

“The pope doesn’t know much about China. And he may have some sympathy for the Communists, because in South America, the Communists are good guys, they suffer for social justice,” Zen said. “But not the [Chinese] Communists. They are persecutors.”

“So the situation is, humanly speaking, hopeless for the Catholic Church: Because we can always expect the Communists to persecute the Church, but now [faithful Catholics] don’t get any help from the Vatican,” he said.

“The Vatican is helping the government, surrendering, giving everything into their hands,” Zen said.