By Courtney Mares (CNA)

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, 69, the Vatican’s “foreign minister” as the Secretary for Relations with States since November 2014 Photo-Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

The Vatican’s foreign minister has said that the VaticanChina deal was “not the best deal possible” and that negotiations are underway to make the deal “work better.”

In a March 14 interview in Rome with Colm Flynn for EWTN News, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican secretary for Relations with States, said that Holy See diplomats are “negotiating improvements” to the Holy See’s provisional agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops, first signed in 2018.

Gallagher, who was not directly involved in the negotiations, underlined that the agreement with China, which the Vatican has renewed twice in the past five years, was the fruit of a long process under three pontificates. The Holy See diplomat said he believes that the Vatican and Chinese authorities have grown in “a greater understanding, a greater respect” for each other over the years.

“Everything is done obviously in the context of Chinese domestic politics… And therefore, we can only achieve so much,” he added.

China’s Xi Jinping assumed an unprecedented third term as president last week at a rubber stamp parliamentary session of the National People’s Congress that unanimously voted for Xi in an election in which there was no other candidate.

The National People’s Congress had previously confirmed a constitutional change, eliminating term limits and granting Xi the possibility of lifelong rule in 2018, six months before the Holy See first signed its deal with Beijing.

Under Xi’s leadership, respect for human rights and religious freedom has deteriorated. Xi has come under mounting international condemnation for China’s brutal persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the northwest Chinese region of Xinjiang, and state officials in different regions of China have removed crosses and demolished church buildings.

In November 2022, the Vatican said that Chinese authorities had violated the terms stipulated in its provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.

A statement released on Nov. 26 said that “the Holy See noted with surprise and regret” that Bishop John Peng Weizhao had been installed as an “auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi,” a diocese that is not recognized by the Vatican.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, remains awaiting appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest,” it said.

Top Vatican Diplomat Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, on Ukraine, Difficult China Accord

By Colm Flynn (EWTN)

When we look around the world, in your opinion, what would be the three biggest challenges diplomatically speaking?

Well, obviously, the biggest diplomatic challenge at the moment, for the world and for the international community, is the war in Ukraine. After that, I think we have the climate change crisis: which you know, in the last few days has been this good news about the oceans, which is to be applauded, and hopefully will be a big step forward. After that, I think a lot of the things are the general conflict duality that we have in the Middle East, parts of Africa, also, the destabilization of Latin America. These are the things that I think are facing the international community at this time.

Now nations across the world are sending tanks and other military equipment [to Ukraine]. Through diplomacy, what can the Vatican try and achieve there? 

Well, we can try to keep what I call the dream of peace alive. We can talk about dialogue, and peace, which in many areas are words which are not appreciated at the moment. And we can understand that. We understand the suffering of the Ukrainian people. They’re not thinking in terms of dialoguing with Russia at the moment. But what we also can do is maintain, to some degree, contacts with the Russian authorities, to the embassies, to the Nuncio in Moscow. Same thing with the Ukrainians, because obviously, that’s much easier. And we can continue to repeat our willingness to participate and to share in any peace process, any negotiations of any kind, to offer our good offices. Now, at the moment, it doesn’t appear that that’s being taken up by anybody, but it remains there. And I think that that’s the position of the Holy See and of the Holy Father, that if we can do anything to help — and we are trying to do something about prisoner exchanges. We’re trying to help a little bit with some of these children who have been deported, and with some results.

If you were to try and predict – as one of the Church’s top diplomats with immense experience dealing with the heads of nations across the world, and often very tricky situations – how do you think this is going to play out?

Well, I don’t have a crystal ball. I think that much of the commitment of arms by the West and by NATO, the United States, and others, inevitably is going to be perceived by Russia as an escalation of the conflict, to which they will presumably make an appropriate response. So I think we’re in for a long war of attrition. We’re seeing in these days, the fighting of Bakhmut and other towns. The result is not easy. The resistance can be strong. The aggression has to be very strong as well. So I think we’ve got to be prepared for the long haul. And we’ve got to try, in one sense, to keep working to prove that I’m wrong: that some solution can be brought about, a lasting peace and a just peace, as soon as possible.

When we look at something like the Vatican’s deal with China, it’s quite controversial. What tips the balance in terms of whether you agree to or not agree to make a deal like this?

Well, in the case of China, you have to remember that the agreement that was signed five years ago was the fruit of working on negotiations over a period of about 30 years. So it was a long process under three pontificates. And most of the agreement was already agreed and accepted by the Holy See, and by the Chinese authorities already in the time of Pope Benedict. So it was only a bit of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. And I obviously was not involved directly in those negotiations.

But yes, 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: they were only prepared to go so far and to agree to certain things. But that was what was possible at the time. As Cardinal Parolin has said on numerous occasions, it wasn’t really a great time to sign the deal, for various reasons. 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. There have been some bishops appointed. There are negotiations underway for the appointment of other bishops. Obviously, the deal could work better. And in fact, we are negotiating improvements to the deal, and that’s a work in process. But we remain committed to carrying forward that dialogue.

And as has been said many times, over the years, there has grown up, I think, a greater understanding, a greater respect between the two parties. And we’re trying obviously to maximize that. It’s going to be difficult. Everything is done obviously in the context of Chinese domestic politics. And therefore, we can only achieve so much. And we can only achieve it quite slowly. 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.

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