Beijing, China, Feb 19, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Chinese state media have reported that Pope Francis initiated last week’s high-level meeting between officials from the Holy See and China.
On Feb. 14, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference—the first meeting between foreign ministers of the two states, according to the state-run media Xinhua.
The two diplomats reportedly discussed the 2018 Vatican-China agreement on the ordination of bishops. Although the text of the agreement was not made public, it reportedly allows for the Communist regime to vet candidates for bishop before the Vatican makes appointments in the country. The provisional agreement will expire in August.
On Monday, the South China Morning Post, a news outlet sympathetic to the Chinese government, reported that, according to “sources,” Pope Francis had initiated the high-level meeting in Munich.
China is home to an estimated 10.5 million Catholics, and around 6 million are estimated to be members of the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). Prior to the 2018 agreement, the CPCA ordained bishops illicitly at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party .
Despite the agreement, millions of Chinese Catholics remain part of the underground Church, which has always been loyal to Rome and persecuted by the government.
The Vatican hoped that the 2018 agreement would unify the two national and underground Churches though unifying their leadership.
Last week, Cardinal Joseph Zen—the retired bishop of Hong Kong and a critic of the Vatican-China agreement—compared Vatican diplomatic efforts in China to St. Joseph trying to bargain with King Herod.
“So [in this deal] the Vatican lost everything, and got nothing,” Cardinal Zen told CNA.
While “the situation in China is very bad” for Catholics, Zen said, Pope Francis is not the source of the diplomatic efforts, which he credited to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.
“I’m sure that the Pope has the good intention to gain some space, some breathing space, and maybe one day you can get something better. Okay,” he said.
“But [Cardinal Pietro] Parolin, the Secretary of State, he knows very well who the Communists are: there’s no way to bargain with the Communists, you get nothing.”
While Parolin was not present at the Feb. 14 meeting in Munich, Archbishop Gallagher is his diplomatic deputy.
A report of the U.S. congressional China Commission, released in January, claimed that conditions had worsened for Catholics in China since the 2018 agreement. Churches have been destroyed and desecrated, and underground Church clergy have been detained.
In December, the head of the CPCA, Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi, said at a Communist Party-sponsored meeting in Beijing that “love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.”
Although Vatican guidelines acknowledged the freedom of Catholics not to register with the Chinese government, the CCP has reportedly pressured Catholics to register. A new set of government rules went into effect on Feb. 1 that require religious groups to promote communist values and the principles of the CCP, as part of president Xi Jinping’s years-long campaign to force the “sinicization” of religion in China.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the China Commission, tweeted on Tuesday that “The Vatican made a pact with the Chinese Communist Party to force Chinese Catholics to support the party.”
“The Church shouldn’t ignore China’s continuing violations of religious freedom,” Rubio said. “The Party’s abuse know no bounds, whether Buddist, Muslim, or Christian, and we cannot be silent.”
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