Chinese Catholic Villagers pray at Mass CREDIT ADAM DEAN, THE TELEGRAPH
There are an estimated 12 million practicing Catholics in China
BEIJING (AFP) – Secret talks between the Vatican and Beijing are raising hopes of a “historic” rapprochement after six decades of estrangement, but some Chinese clergy fear that Rome will accept a Communist stranglehold over the country’s Catholics.
Since becoming head of the Holy See in 2013 Pope Francis has tried to improve relations with the Chinese government in the hope of reconnecting with Catholics in China who are divided between two denominations, loyal to either Rome or Beijing.
Chinese Catholics receive Holy Communion during an outdoor Mass in a village. Credit Dean Adams, the Telegraph
But opponents — among them the respected Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen — say the agreement risks abandoning loyal believers and amounts to a deal with the devil.
Since January, Chinese and Vatican officials have met at least four times, including in Rome, to try and resolve the delicate issue of the appointment of bishops — the heart of the dispute.
Each side has long insisted that it should have the final say on the issue — the Vatican as God’s representative on Earth, and the Communist party as the final arbiter on all issues in China.
Catholic Mass in China — Rev. Peter Pang Wenxian holds a Bible above his head during morning Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing on Friday. Credit THE WASHINGTON POST
“We’re hoping for a very important, historic agreement that we’ve been waiting for for nearly 70 years,” said Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Belgian priest who has been involved with Chinese Catholics since the 1950s and is closely following the discussions.
“A Chinese delegation will head to Rome at the beginning of November for a last round of negotiations,” said Heyndrickx, acting director of the Ferdinand Verbiest Institute in Leuven, which studies Catholicism in China.
China and the Vatican have not had diplomatic relations since 1951. The country’s roughly 12 million Catholics are divided between the government-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party — but sometimes accepted by Rome — and an unofficial church where bishops named by the Vatican are not recognised by Beijing, but sometimes tolerated.
But earlier this year the pope sent greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he was an admirer of Chinese civilisation. Xi responded in September with a gift of a silk print of an 8th-century stele — a nearly three-metre tall carved stone tablet — from Xian, the earliest known trace of Christianity in China.
The agreement is currently expected to see the Vatican recognise four out of the eight CPCA bishops it does not currently acknowledge, according to Father Heyndrickx. Beijing could also name two new bishops in Shanxi and Sichuan provinces with Rome’s blessing.
Catholic priest celebrates mass at the South Cathedral in Beijing
The two would also agree on how to select future bishops.
“Rome could accept a situation in which the final nomination is made by the pope,” Heyndrickx adds. But it was not clear whether the Vatican would have a choice of candidates.
Crucially, the agreement will not address the 30 bishops consecrated by Rome but rejected by Beijing.
“Their fate will certainly not be resolved in the near future,” said Father Heyndrickx.
Even if Beijing agreed to recognise them, he predicted, “I am convinced that they would refuse to join the Patriotic Association.”
– ‘Reality is cruel’ –
Chinese Catholics are divided over the prospect of an agreement, with Cardinal Zen — who spent seven years teaching in the official church in the 1990s — the most high-profile opponent.
The Chinese Communist party is officially atheist and Zen said of the CPCA: “They don’t believe in God, they don’t understand what is the church. They only have political considerations.”
He contrasted the Pope’s approach with that of his predecessor John Paul II, who lived under both Nazi and Communist rule in Poland and played a key role in the advent of democracy in eastern Europe.
“Communism is a terrible totalitarian regime and people who haven’t experienced that find difficulty to understand that,” Zen told AFP from Hong Kong.
Cardinal Joseph Zen opposes a deal with China. Photo by Dickson Lee, SCMP
Pope Francis, he said, “wants to make peace with everybody, that’s very good, but sometimes I think the reality is cruel”.
For Francesco Sisci, a researcher at Renmin University who has been following Vatican issues for decades, the split in the Catholic church in China is more than political.
“The Catholic church is split between factions that hate each other,” he explained. “In the same area, you have two bishops rivalling for power, for money.”
Zen described the CPCA’s members as “puppets of the government” who have profited from their positions.
If Rome recognised it, he added, Beijing could feel emboldened to “eliminate” the underground church, whose members would be left “desperate”.
Vatican authorities “say they hope that by this agreement, the people may live their faith peacefully,” Zen said. “But if there is no freedom there is no peace.”
China’s Catholics: ‘Rome may betray us, but I won’t join a Church which is controlled by the Communist Party’
China Tells India “No” To Holy Man Visit To Tibet Border (The Dalai Lama is considered an outlaw to the Communist Chinese government)
Bill Bennett on Leaked Hillary Emails — “This Gang is Anti-Catholic for a Long Time” — Who is “Deplorable”? –Transatlantic agnostic progressives elites — Experts say Christianity could be wiped out in the Middle East as Islamic extremism continues (Hillary’s Staff is on their side?) China, Vietnam frequently persecute Christians
Philippine President Duterte called ‘serial killer president’ by European newspaper — Philippine Catholic Church leaders weigh in — China will welcome Duterte (“They Like His Style” — “He’s not afraid to kill his own people”)
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
Vatican, China Consider Deal on Selection of Bishops After Decades of Division
Proposed compromise could draw fierce protests from Chinese Catholics
By FRANCIS X. ROCCA, CHUN HAN WONG
The Wall Street Journal
12:00AM November 1, 2016
Negotiators for the Vatican and Beijing have reached a compromise on who selects Catholic bishops in China, potentially marking a major step towards ending six decades of estrangement.
If Pope Francis and Chinese leaders sign off on the proposed deal, the Pope would accept eight bishops ordained by China’s government without the Vatican’s permission. But the deal would leave many issues unresolved, including the role of China’s state-run Catholic institutions.
© AFP/File | Since becoming head of the Holy See in 2013 Pope Francis has tried to improve relations with the Chinese government in the hope of reconnecting with Catholics in China who are divided between two denominations, loyal to either Rome or Beijing
Negotiators are waiting for the Pope’s decision; if he agrees, the final decision will be up to Beijing. It would be a diplomatic breakthrough for the Pope, who has eagerly pursued an opening to China that eluded his predecessors, though re-establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican — which Beijing severed in 1951 — would remain a distant goal.
Vatican officials, however, are bracing for strong protests from Chinese Catholics in the so-called underground church, some of whose members have suffered imprisonment or other punishment for defying government control of the church, and who could regard the agreement as a lopsided win for Beijing and hence a betrayal of their fidelity.
The deal would defer many thorny issues, including the legal status of underground Chinese bishops loyal to Rome who now operate without government approval.
The deal would mean the end of Vatican approval for ordinations of underground bishops, meaning all new leaders of the Catholic hierarchy in China would be acceptable to Beijing.
Vatican negotiators are unhappy about the deal but consider it the best they can hope for at the moment. It would be a historic breakthrough from Rome’s point of view, since the communist government would for the first time recognise the Pope’s jurisdiction as head of the Catholic Church in China.
Francis has spoken publicly of his desire for better relations with Beijing, and has avoided angering China, refraining from criticism of its human rights record and declining to meet the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of seeking Tibetan independence.
China requires all Catholics to register with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a state-controlled body that supervises the mainland Catholic community but is not recognised by the Vatican. The country’s Catholic population, which is estimated to number at least 10 million, remains divided between official and unregistered underground communities.
Christianity has spread markedly in China in recent years, especially in the form of evangelical Protestantism, and has been disproportionately popular among middle-class and elite Chinese. But the Catholic Church’s evangelical efforts have been hindered by the division between official and underground communities.
The Vatican and China have engaged in quiet negotiations since the late 1980s, and under St John Paul II adopted an informal arrangement for the mutual recognition of bishops.
However, over the past decade, Chinese authorities periodically have violated that understanding by unilaterally ordaining bishops without Rome’s permission. Today, eight of the bishops in the state-run Chinese bishops’ conference are not recognised by the Pope. Beijing has insisted that Pope Francis recognise these eight bishops — three of whom have been excommunicated by the Vatican — as a precondition for the agreement on future episcopal ordinations.
The agreement would allow Chinese authorities to present a set of candidates for the role of bishop of a particular diocese. The Pope would then choose among the candidates or reject all the options and demand fresh names. The Vatican would demand the freedom to investigate candidates’ backgrounds thoroughly as a condition for their approval.
“The Chinese government would still retain effective control over who becomes a bishop,” said Ren Yanli, a Catholicism specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “The final word remains with the Chinese government.”
Members of the underground community could protest strongly.
“If the Vatican should be perceived as abandoning them, it could be seen as a betrayal” and “cause serious divisions in the Chinese Catholic Church”, said Richard Madsen, a professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego.
“The government would probably actually like this. Its action over the years show that it would like to see the church weakened, and a deeper division in the church would help accomplish that.”
In July, the Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, wrote an open letter aimed at assuaging concern among Catholics about the potential Vatican-China accord, saying Pope Francis “would not accept any agreement that would harm the integrity of faith of the universal church”.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke cautioned against the notion that any deal was imminent, but declined to elaborate on the status of talks.
Vatican negotiators remain apprehensive. While they believe a resolution before the end of November is possible, they are uncertain of Beijing’s intentions.
President Xi Jinping’s government has been less confrontational towards the Catholic Church in the past two years, but the Patriotic Catholic Association and the State Administration for Religious Affairs have traditionally housed hardliners unwilling to see the Vatican encroach on their authority or that of Beijing.
The Wall Street Journal
Tags: Beijing, Cardinal John Tong, Cardinal Zen, Catholic Church, Catholic Church in Vietnam, Catholicism in China, Catholics, Catholics in China, Chinese Communist Party, Chinese government, Christianity in China, Communism is a terrible totalitarian regime, Corruption of China's appointed bishops, Dalai Lama, deal with the devil, Duterte, evangelical Protestantism, François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, freedom of religion, Heyndrickx, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, human rights, If there is no freedom there is no peace, Jeroom Heyndrickx, Patriotic Catholic Association, Philippines, Pope Francis, Pope Francis and China reach deal on appointing bishops, Religious Freedom, Rome, state-run Chinese bishops, Vatican, Vietnam, Xi Jinping