ROME — A top Vatican bishop has confirmed Pope Francis’ wish to visit Beijing and establish formal diplomatic ties with the country, as reported Monday in China’s state-run Global Times.
“Pope Francis has love and confidence in China and China trusts Pope Francis,” said Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, speaking at an organ donation and transplantation conference this weekend in Kunming, Southwest China.
“In this dynamic, the next step is to reach [an agreement on establishing] diplomatic relations,” said Sanchez, while also underscoring the pope’s wish to visit China and to host China’s leaders in the Vatican.
The next steps between #China and the #Vatican are establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries, arranging Pope Francis’s visit to China, and welcoming Chinese leaders to visit the Vatican: Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences pic.twitter.com/qRMdmTiW9o
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) December 7, 2019
Bishop Sanchez caused a stir in Church circles in 2018 when he gushed about how great life is in Communist China after a visit to the country.
In describing his trip, Sanchez waxed of how he “found an extraordinary China” with an exceptional work ethic, telling a journalist that “at this moment, the Chinese are the ones implementing Catholic social teaching best.”
Officials of the Chinese Communist Party expressed satisfaction with the pope’s recent refusal to back up Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and his statement that he “loves” China and wants to visit.
During an in-flight press conference returning from Asia late last month, the pope dodged questions regarding the Hong Kong protests, insisting that the problem must be “relativized” among other difficult situations occurring around the globe.
“But it’s not just Hong Kong. Think of Chile, think of France — the democratic France with a year of yellow vests — think of Nicaragua, think of the other Latin American countries, Brazil, which is struggling, and also any European country. It’s a generalized thing,” he said.
“There are several issues that have problems and I am not able to evaluate them right now,” he said, before concluding: “I would like to go to Beijing. I love China.”
The following day, China’s foreign ministry praised the pontiff for his statement.
“Following the pope’s statement in which he expressed his desire to visit Beijing, Geng Shuang, the spokesman for the foreign ministry, said that China appreciates his friendship and kindness, and looks with openness toward reciprocal exchanges with the Vatican,” read a tweet sent by the Chinese Embassy in Rome.
A seguito della dichiarazione del @Pontifex_it , che ha espresso il desiderio di visitare #Beijing, il portavoce del ministro degli Esteri, Geng Shuang, ha detto che la #Cina apprezza la sua amicizia e gentilezza , e che guarda con apertura agli scambi reciproci con il #Vaticano. pic.twitter.com/B67jM9pbuO
— Ambasciata Repubblica Popolare Cinese in Italia (@AmbCina) November 28, 2019
Much has been made of the pope’s silence over the tense situation in Hong Kong, with many Vatican watchers suggesting he does not want to muddy the waters with Communist China in his bid to establish diplomatic relations with the country. In September 2018, Francis signed an important document with Beijing regarding the naming of bishops in China, the contents of which have never been revealed.
In its report Monday, the Global Times referred again to the pope’s recent statements regarding China, calling them a “goodwill gesture.”
The former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, said in an interview last week that the pope’s new policies in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) are “killing” the underground Church in that country.
“Unfortunately, my experience of my contact with the Vatican is simply disastrous,” the cardinal said, adding that he is particularly distressed by the Vatican’s secret deal with Beijing over the naming of Catholic bishops and a subsequent document allowing Catholic clergy to register with the state-run church.
“There are three things,” Zen said. “A secret agreement, being so secret you can’t say anything. We don’t know what is in it. Then the legitimization of the seven excommunicated bishops. That’s incredible, simply incredible.”
“But even more incredible is the last act: the killing of the underground,” he said.
Cardinal Zen was referring to a Vatican document bearing the title “Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China” regarding Catholic priests enlisting in the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which does not recognize the authority of Rome.
The document offers Chinese clergy the opportunity to register with the CPA in good conscience as long as they specify that they are acting without failing in their duty “to remain faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”
While insisting it “understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions,” the Vatican statement puts pressure on all priests to enlist in the CPA, since they can no longer say that the Church forbids them from doing so.