One of the agreement’s architects, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, told an interviewer June 7, “We have to see what to do after this [September 2020] deadline. I think we should probably reconfirm it for one or two years.” (link)
But Hong Kong’s retired archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the agreement, warns that the 2018 agreement has further marginalized the faithful of the Vatican-loyal “underground” church and increased pressure on Catholics to join the government’s Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association by pointing to the Vatican’s acquiescence to its demands for oversight of choice of bishops.
Cardinal Zen said of the situation in a March 2020 blog post that “during the last 20 years, because of the wrong policy of the Holy See in dealing with the Church in China, pursued by a group of people who dared even not to follow the line of the Pope, the underground community was more and more like abandoned, considered inconvenient, almost as an obstacle to unity, while in the community officially recognized by the Government the ‘opportunists’ grow more and more numerous, fearless and defiant because encouraged by people inside and around the Vatican, intoxicated by their illusions of the Ostpolitik (“Eastern policy”).” (link)
The deal, whose exact contents remain a secret, has so far resulted in five “underground” bishops being installed by the CPA.
However, Catholic clergy in China are required by law to “register” with the government, and many clergy of the “underground” church began to appeal to Rome to ask whether they should do so.
The registration also contained an affirmation of the independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China — part of a campaign of “Sinicization” of all religions in order, ostensibly, to root out foreign influence in society.
In response, the Vatican issued a set of directives in September 2019, advising priests that they may, in good conscience, sign the registration and statement, but including a further recommendation to add a sentence affirming respect for authentic Catholic doctrine, if possible.
The Vatican also said that no priest should be forced to sign the statement if his interpretation of it was opposed to his conscience.
Unfortunately, examples of clergy who have been hounded and detained by the government for refusing to register have been documented, including Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin of the diocese of Mindong. According to Asia News, Bishop Guo was placed under supervision of two state security officials in November of 2019 and visited daily in an attempt to force him to sign the registration. He finally escaped and went into hiding.
The majority of the diocese’s priests had also refused to sign.
Although Pope Francis has commented little on the specific issue of Hong Kong (other than to pray for China during a late May Regina Caeliaddress: “Dear Catholic brothers and sisters in China, I wish to assure you that the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in trials”) it was noted in the world’s press that he had dropped a reference to Hong Kong, and a plea for religious freedom there, that had been included in the prepared text of his message at his Sunday public Angelus on July 5.
The omitted passage ran: “I hope therefore that all the people involved will know how to face the various problems with a spirit of far-sighted wisdom and authentic dialogue. This requires courage, humility, non-violence, and respect for the dignity and rights of all. I thus express the desire that societal freedom, and especially religious freedom, be expressed in full and true liberty, as indeed various international documents provide for it.”
The text was in the prepared version of the address handed out to journalists that morning, but the Pope simply did not speak the words, leaving them out.
“The curious omission of those sentiments led to speculation that the Pope’s message—mild as it was—was suppressed out of concern that it would provoke an angry reaction from sensitive officials in Beijing. The Vatican has been extremely careful to maintain friendly relations with the Chinese regime, and has avoided public expressions of concern about threats to religious liberty—both in Hong Kong and on the mainland,” reported Catholic News Agency.
As Cardinal Zen has said of the position of Cardinal John Tong Hon, 80 (left), the current interim head of the Diocese of Hong Kong and on record as supporting the new security laws, it is “a tricky situation” for all concerned.
“On the one hand, it will be a lot of trouble if we don’t support the government,” Zen said. “We never know what they will do to our Church. On the other hand, [Tong] disappointed many within the Church by giving his support.”
Similarly, the Vatican is faced with the question “How do we fearlessly stand up for each one of Christ’s faithful ones, and risk provocation of a soulless communist dictatorship like China’s, and yet bring no harm, no increased persecution or vengeful destruction, to an already beleaguered people?”
Meanwhile, the credibility of the Christian West — even its very will to survive — is being called into question as Marxist-style destabilization of society proceeds apace.
Anti-Western-civilization rhetoric is now the norm; violent protest, destruction, arson and even murder occur on a weekly basis in Western countries where the creeping political and social anarchy have been preceded by moral anarchy for decades: perhaps it is no surprise that a decadent West, groaning under the strain of its own sensual and material excess, seems to be breaking apart.
And not unrelated to the issue of sensual and material excess is the history, in the past decades of China-Vatican relations, of the involvement of now-disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. As has become evident, McCarrick was an orchestrator of and participant in high-level diplomatic meetings between Chinese and Vatican officials, in later years in a more unofficial capacity, but nevertheless influential. What mark, if any, did McCarrick leave on the negotiations leading to the 2018 Vatican-China agreement that Cardinal Zen spurns?
We hope to delve into this subject in a later report.
Against this backdrop, it is difficult to predict how Rome will navigate the dangerous waters of communism in a burgeoning global economic and political power like China. But it is also difficult to imagine how it can be done without prayer and sacrifice, as the spirit of atheistic communism seems to be one of those spirits of which Christ said, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer and fasting.”
And so we issue a call to all Christians to pray:
—for the Church in China, that is being targeted, apparently as never before during the reign of Xi Jinping, and
—for the Chinese people, from whom the communist government is attempting to steal their souls.
Pray also for the Pope and all his counselors, and, not least, for the once-Christian West, which is losing not only its spirit, but its own will to exist.