ROME — Pope Francis decided at the last minute to pull a section of his weekly Angelus address dealing with Hong Kong freedoms Sunday.
As Vatican observers have noted, the pope has avoided criticizing China over its human rights abuses, preferring to lavish praise on the Communist dictatorship and its leaders.
The Holy See Press Office had distributed an embargoed copy of the pontiff’s words Sunday morning and thus accredited journalists were able to see the discrepancies between the original text and the speech as the pope delivered it. The 150-word paragraph dealing with Hong Kong was completely eliminated.
Veteran Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti opted to break with the terms of the embargo and published the excised comments along with his interpretation of what may have motivated the pope to drop his references to the Hong Kong situation.
Tosatti begins by acknowledging the known content of the original speech before questioning the rationale behind the deletion. “What is not known, however, is what sort of pressure Beijing put on the Pope so that he would not speak on world television about the drama of the former British colony, even in the most delicate and peaceful tones possible.”
“This episode sheds even worse light — if that is possible — on the famous secret agreement signed between Beijing and the Holy See, whose consequences are being heavily felt in the lives of many Chinese Catholics, despite the propaganda of Vatican media,” Tosatti continued. “It is an agreement that risks constituting one of the most sensational errors in the history of Vatican diplomacy, and also one of the worst decisions of the Pope who wanted it and endorsed it, unlike his predecessors.”
“The question remains unanswered: what strings is Beijing using to gag the Pope?” Tosatti asks in conclusion.
For his part, Vatican journalist Riccardo Cascioli added his own interpretation to the mix, suggesting that the Holy See is “genuflecting” before China’s Communist regime.
“Chinese pressure or self-censorship, nothing changes: the Holy See is sacrificing its freedom and that of Chinese and Hong Kong Catholics, with a view to a normalization of relations with Beijing,” Cascioli writes.
“It was already embarrassing enough — to say the least — that the Holy See has said nothing about what has been happening in Hong Kong for months, obviously not to displease Beijing,” Cascioli notes. “But what happened yesterday at the Angelus goes beyond all limits.”
As usual, the Angelus text that the Pope would recite shortly afterwards had been distributed in advance to journalists: it contained a reference to the situation in Hong Kong inviting dialogue and avoiding violent drifts. While “certainly not a memorable speech,” the pope’s words would have at least constituted a nod to Hong Kong, but now we don’t even have that, Cascioli said.
But all of this has been brewing for some time, as Vatican watchers are keenly aware.
In mid-May, the American Vatican journalist John L. Allen, Jr. wrote that the Vatican is pulling out all the stops to woo Beijing into full diplomatic relations.
In an article for Crux, a U.S.-based online Catholic news outlet, Allen wrote that the Vatican is “covetous of a relationship with China, and often apparently willing to stifle objections and give away a great deal” in order to make headway.
In short, “the Vatican is moving full-steam ahead in its courtship of Beijing, with the ultimate prize remaining full diplomatic relations, a secure legal standing for the church, and partnerships on the global stage,” Allen wrote.
In September, 2018, the Vatican inked a provisional accord with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the naming of Chinese bishops, a move that triggered an avalanche of criticism at the time, which has only been aggravated by ongoing CCP aggressions against Christians after the deal was signed.
The Vatican’s overture to Beijing was sweetened by the recent launch of a new Chinese edition of the Jesuit-edited journal Civiltà Cattolica, which enjoys a semi-official Vatican status, Allen noted.
The Holy See’s charm offensive on Beijing has not gone unnoticed by other Vatican-watchers, who have made similar assessments of the Vatican’s ongoing pattern of appeasement.
Francis dreams of being the pope who will establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, and to achieve this goal he is willing to make “concessions,” declared Vatican analyst Alban Mikozy on French television last December.
“Pope Francis is a prudent man,” Mikozy said. “He pursues a dream: to be the sovereign pontiff who will restore relations between China and the Vatican.”
“In order to do this, he is ready to make a few concessions: say nothing about Hong Kong, do not get too excited when the Chinese leader talks about rewriting the Bible,” he added, in reference to announcements that the CCP wishes to retranslate the Bible and other sacred texts to make them conform to socialist ideology.
Because of this overriding desire, Mikozy said, the pope is willing to turn a blind eye to the CCP’s violations of religious liberty and other human rights issues.
Last month, exiled Chinese dissident Guo Wengui added a further element to the mix, alleging that the CCP “allocates $2 billion a year” to pay off the Vatican for its silence concerning Chinese atrocities.
In a June 20th interview on The War Room, Mr. Guo said the CCP earmarks massive sums each year to win the allegiance of foreign countries including the Vatican, Italy, and Australia. Among them, the Vatican receives up to 2 billion dollars from the Chinese Communist Party every year, he said.
“The Chinese Communist Party allocates 2 billion US dollars each year” to gain influence over the Vatican’s internal policy making and to pay for its silence on the CCP’s repression of religious freedom, said the controversial billionaire whistleblower.
According to Tosatti’s translation of the pope’s omitted words, Francis was going to say that he has closely followed “the complex situation” in Hong Kong, noting that the issues involved are “undoubtedly delicate and affect everyone’s life; therefore it is understandable that there is a marked sensitivity in this regard.”
I hope that all those involved know how to deal with the various problems “with a spirit of far-sighted wisdom and authentic dialogue,” the text stated. “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,” the text declared.