ROME — The expected renewal of an agreement between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops “will contribute to the development of Chinese Catholic churches,” the state-run Global Times reported Thursday.
A mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Global Times said that a renewed accord would “signal to the world that China’s Catholic churches could continue healthy development under the agreement.”
Experts “believe that US interference can hardly sway the Vatican on the deal, although Washington has tried to weigh in the bilateral agreement and loudly criticized China’s Catholic churches,” the article stated, in reference to a recent essay by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which urged the Vatican to use its moral authority to pressure China on the issue of human rights and religious liberty.
“The Holy See has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights violations, especially those perpetrated by totalitarian regimes like Beijing’s,” Pompeo wrote last Friday in an essay for First Things. “In the late twentieth century, the Church’s power of moral witness helped inspire those who liberated central and eastern Europe from communism, and those who challenged autocratic and authoritarian regimes in Latin America and East Asia.”
“That same power of moral witness should be deployed today with respect to the Chinese Communist Party,” the secretary insisted.
“What the Church teaches the world about religious freedom and solidarity should now be forcefully and persistently conveyed by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program,” he added.
The Global Times said that Vatican watchers and China’s Catholic bishops are “confident” about the signing.
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Wednesday that there is good communication between the Vatican and Beijing, declaring that China holds a sincere and positive attitude toward advancing relations with the Vatican.
Pompeo’s accusation was condemned by Chinese bishops, the Global Times said, in reference to bishops enlisted in the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Bishop Vincenzo Zhan Silu, vice chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China and bishop of the diocese of Mindong, said that “people in Catholic churches are very satisfied,” the Global Times said.
Zhan added that if the deal is renewed, it will serve as further proof that the bilateral relations between China and the Vatican are heading down a positive road.
In 2019, Pope Francis asked Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, then the ordinary bishop of Mindong (Fujian), to step down and relinquish his post to the illicitly ordained bishop Vincenzo Zhan Silu.
Afterward, the Chinese Religious Affairs Office said it would not recognize Guo as an auxiliary bishop unless he signs up for the Patriotic Association.
The Global Times said that Secretary Pompeo’s interest in the China-Vatican agreement “proves to the world that the agreement has global paramount importance.”
According to China expert Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), the CCP has stripped religious freedom in China “to the bone.”
“Especially now as in China there is a great religious rebirth of all religions but especially of Protestants and Catholics, the government is really scared of this religious growth, so it tries to control all religions and tries to suffocate this religious rebirth,” Father Cervellera said during an hour-long documentary highlighting the absolute control wielded by the CCP over churches in the country.
According to the priest, the 2018 China-Vatican agreement on the naming of bishops “serves a precise government motive: that is, to eliminate the so-called non-official church, whose faithful do not identify with the Patriotic Association.”
There are some 12 million Catholics in China, split roughly down the middle between those of the underground Church faithful to Rome and members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, founded by Mao Zedong in 1957 to nationalize the Church and to separate believers from the authority of the Vatican.