Ever since the red flag rose over China in 1949, Roman Catholics
there have suffered because of their fidelity to the pope in Rome. Now the Holy Father himself has become a source of tribulation. In its eagerness to reach a deal with China, the Vatican is elevating the persecutors over the persecuted.
Xi Jinping, an atheist and hard-line communist, became leader of China in 2012. The Chinese government has since stepped up its violations of human rights, including religious freedom. This is no accident. In 2016 President Xi declared that all party members should be “firm Marxist atheists
and never find any of their beliefs in any religion.” The following year, in a speech that emphasized the dominance of the Communist Party over all Chinese life, he said the government would work to “Sinicize” religion—a euphemism for total control over the faith.
Against this backdrop, for some reason Pope Francis
and his Vatican diplomatic corps think now is a good time to deal with Beijing. Given Mr. Xi’s view that religion is often a cover for anti-regime activities, it is hard to see him accommodating anything other than total surrender. Fortunately for Mr. Xi, Pope Francis
is on the other side of the table.
As this newspaper reported Feb. 1, the pope “has decided to accept the legitimacy of seven Catholic bishops appointed by the Chinese government.” This means the pope will no longer have full control over his bishops. The power will go instead to atheist bureaucrats determined to suppress religion, with the pope’s role in appointing bishops reduced to a veto over their selection. The pope got almost nothing in return from his Chinese counterparts, and he is also being mocked. News reports allege that at least two of the seven excommunicated bishops selected by China have had relationships with women and even fathered children.
This appalls Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was born in Shanghai in 1932 and was bishop of Hong Kong from 2002-09. He has plenty of firsthand experience tussling with Chinese communists. He has negotiated the release of priests and bishops imprisoned in China, while raising funds abroad for the families of the persecuted. He was also under constant surveillance for his role in Hong Kong’s democracy movement. Few understand the true nature of a communist regime as well as he does.
Late last year, the cardinal told me of the Vatican’s effort to compel two good and faithful bishops to retire to make way for men chosen by Beijing. “Imagine what the communists think?” he asked. “They must be laughing at us.” Last month Cardinal Zen flew to Rome to make a personal appeal to the pope. He was ignored.
The pope’s dealings with similar regimes, notably Cuba and Venezuela, do not inspire confidence. Perhaps he dreams of becoming the first pope to celebrate Mass in Tiananmen Square. That would make for a powerful image. But the hard-liners in Beijing are not naive. They are very conscious of the church’s role in communism’s fall, especially in Poland.
Because the Vatican wants a deal more than Beijing does, the Holy See has negotiated from a weak position. “If the Holy Father gives up enough, they will take it, but the communists will offer nothing of substance in return,” Cardinal Zen says. If there is a deal, it will no doubt be the first of many surrenders. Perhaps the churches in Hong Kong and Taiwan will be next.
Do the pope and his diplomats really think Mr. Xi is merely going through the motions when he imprisons priests and bishops? Consider that China is in the midst of a military buildup, a multitrillion-dollar economic expansion across Asia and Africa, and a revival of aggressive communist ideology at home. No one should expect a resurgent China to honor a deal with the Vatican.
The proposed deal also needlessly deepens pre-existing divisions. Catholics in China
currently belong to either the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association—a government-controlled church—or the underground church. The deal requires all underground bishops to join the government church, though not necessarily with their current title, or resign. It also forces all the priests and faithful in the underground church to join the CPCA. Anyone who doesn’t comply could face arrest for illegal activity, all while being declared disobedient by the Vatican.
Knowing that the Holy Father was on their side helped millions of Chinese Catholics—including Cardinal Zen—through their darkest days. But now they have to wonder about the Holy See’s judgment. Perhaps the only real hope for the Catholic faithful in China is that an aggressive and emboldened Beijing will insist on further capitulations. Maybe that would finally get the pope to walk from a deal.
Source: The Wall Street Journal