Taiwan Authorities Say Vatican-China Deal Is Hurting Catholics on the Ground

A worshipers waves the flag of China as Pope Francis leaves following the weekly general audience on June 12, 2019 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty

ROME — Taiwanese officials said that the Vatican’s year-old agreement with Communist China has done nothing to help Catholics on the ground, as party leader Xi Jinping has continued his brutal assault on Chinese Christians.

“Even if the Vatican gives up Taiwan and establishes a relationship with China,” Chen Ming-Chi, Deputy Minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told Crux, we don’t see that “the situation of Catholics will improve in China.”

“Catholics in China might see that as a signal that the Holy See is waiting to give up on them,” Chen said, noting that many Christians in mainland China “have paid the price, paid the cost, for insisting on freedom of worship, freedom of faith.”

Establishing formal ties with Communist China would be “counter-productive” for the Vatican, Chen said, given China’s record of anti-Christian policies and decades-old animosity toward the Vatican.

“Please don’t give them up and don’t give up Taiwan (after) so many years. We have a vice president who is Catholic. We are very strong supporters of the values that are advocated by the Holy See. They should see us as a partner to help Christianity in the Chinese-speaking world,” Chen said.

Last September, the Vatican announced the signing of a provisional agreement with China, which granted an unspecified power to the Communist party in the naming of bishops.

Not long after, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen said that the deal spells the “annihilation” of the Church in China.

“Francis may have natural sympathy for Communists because for him, they are the persecuted,” Zen wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “He doesn’t know them as the persecutors they become once in power, like the Communists in China.”

The following month, China’s most famous civil rights activist denounced the deal as a “betrayal” of Chinese Catholics.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind scholar and human rights advocate, said that Communist China is an “extraordinarily dictatorial and authoritarian nation” where many kinds of freedoms that are taken for granted in the West are “routinely and often violently repressed.”

The pact equates to “bowing before evil, of selling God to the devil,” he said. “This will become yet another shameful episode whose stain the Catholic Church will be unable to cleanse.”

Since then, the Chinese government has appeared emboldened by the Vatican deal, increasing pressure on underground bishops to join the state-controlled Patriotic Association or suffer the consequences.

When President Xi visited Rome last March, he publicly snubbed Pope Francis, ignoring overtures by the Vatican and meeting instead exclusively with state leaders.

Much of this would seem to corroborate Cardinal Zen’s repeated assertion that Francis is naïve in his understanding of Chinese communism, an assessment shared by Deputy Minister Chen.

While the Vatican would like to help Catholics in China, Chen said, it “doesn’t have a very deep knowledge about the communist rule in China.”

“Ever since Xi Jinping came to power, things have changed, a lot,” Chen said, citing ongoing abuses of religious freedom.

The Chinese Communist Party is “aggressively going after Christians,” he told Crux, and the danger faced by Chinese Christians “is comprehensive and is from all directions.”

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