China’s Catholic Leviathan: Jesuits and the Sino-Vatican Agreement

No one, it seems, is more optimistic about China’s Church than the Holy See. And I suspect that no one is more cynical regarding this optimism than China’s Catholics themselves.

Holy Mass at a Chinese “Underground” Church
(Source: Whitworth University Special Collections)

On October 22nd, the Holy See Press Office announced that the Vatican has renewed its agreement with China’s state officials – the new expiration date of the agreement is October 22, 2022. The Vatican states:

The primary objective of the Provisional Agreement regarding the appointment of Bishops in China is that of sustaining and promoting the proclamation of the Gospel in that land, restoring the full and visible unity of the Church. In fact, the primary motivations that have guided the Holy See in this process, in dialogue with the Government leaders of that country, are fundamentally of an ecclesiological and pastoral nature.i

The agreement was renewed during one of most turbulent eras of China’s Catholic history, and opinions range from buoyant optimism to alarm and distrust. While from the Vatican’s point of view the agreement provides the Holy See with long-desired authority over the election of bishops, there is no mystery regarding the communist party’s current sense of empowerment to eradicate the “underground” Catholic community using its usual methods. The press release notes that the agreement’s objectives include “promoting the proclamation of the Gospel in that land [and] restoring the full and visible unity of the Church.” In truth, the only part of these two aims that China’s authorities agree upon is “restoring the full and visible unity” of China’s Catholics by erasing the “underground” community, who do not acquiesce to state regulations. No one, it seems, is more optimistic about China’s Church than the Holy See, insisting even in its press release that “there will be no more illegitimate ordinations.” And I suspect that no one is more cynical regarding this optimism than China’s Catholics themselves. Even so, the “prophets of doom,” as Pope St. John XXIII employed the term in his opening remarks of the Second Vatican Council, continue to disregard the many salutary fruits bearing forth in China’s Catholic Church.

The Chinese have two sayings to describe the cornucopia of contradictions expressed about the situation of the Chinese Church: Mitian dahuang and Luanzhong youxu, meaning, “Deceits fill the heavens” and “Within chaos there is order.” I have listened to online talks given by experts on China’s Catholics that contradict the realities I have observed with my own eyes, and I have read media reports describing state persecutions in areas I have just visited that had no such events. There are persecutions, more than I care to mention, but there are also flourishing Catholic communities in China that would blanch if they saw the hyperbole and misinformation of some media sources. Despite the misunderstanding and misrepresentation in the media, much of what we hear about the Church in China is accurate.

Three connected events related to China’s Catholics have recently occupied the news – the renewal of the provisional Sino-Vatican agreement originally signed on September 22, 2018; the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo’s remarks in Rome that were critical of the Vatican’s entente with Beijing; and Joseph Cardinal Zen’s, SDB, recent effort to meet with Pope Francis in Rome to warn against renewing the Sino-Vatican agreement. At first glance it appears that the Church in China is eddying into disorder and increased suffering, but while much there is unsettling the majority of China’s Catholics are still able to attend Mass, pray their daily rosary, and draw many others into the Church.

There are several leviathans that, like the biblical sea creature of the Hebrew scriptures, continue to threaten China’s Church, but like Jonah who retained his faith when swallowed by the monster, China’s pews remain filled on Sundays. In this column I consider how Jesuits have responded to China’s post-1949 communist government, and I describe what I hear from Catholics in China who preserve spiritual order within a larger context of global and national chaos.

Fr. Shen Baishun, SJ, Fr. Wang Rensheng, SJ, and Fr. Wu Yingfeng, SJ (Source: Whitworth University Special Collections)

Surviving Chaos: China’s Jesuit Strategy of Resistance

Popular media sources are not commonly in the business (and they are businesses) of placing their reports into an historical context. History rarely supports histrionics, but China is a culture that has long been concerned with its past, and the average Chinese Christian experiences current events in light of their background. A few select stories will help non-Chinese readers view Sino-Vatican relations through the Chinese Catholic lens. Since I’m currently writing a book on Jesuits (and the pope is a Jesuit), I’ll provide three examples of Chinese Jesuits who China’s faithful evoke as witnesses of ordered spirituality in chaotic times.

I choose these three Jesuits because they are well known in China but largely unknown elsewhere. When Chinese Catholics think of Jesuits they often imagine Father Matteo Ricci, SJ, (1552-1610) Father Gulio Aleni, SJ, (1582-1649) and other modern Jesuits who represent resistance to, rather than agreement with, China’s ruling government.

Among the Jesuits who are frequently celebrated is Father Shen Pai-shun, SJ, (d. 1985) who was arrested by state officials on 8 September 1955. Shen was charged with being a “counterrevolutionary” and “intellectual saboteur.” Sources suggest that if he had publicly denounced his bishop, Ignatius Gong Pinmei (1901-2000), and renounced his loyalty to the pope he would have been released from prison. Most Jesuits in China in the 1950s were not only unwilling to collaborate with China’s new communist government, but they also invited local Catholics to join the Legion of Mary to better resist state pressures to repudiate the pope. Father Shen spent three decades in a prison for political dissenters, was released briefly, and then rearrested because he refused to join the Chines Catholic Patriotic Association. He finally died in prison on 3 June 1985.ii

Another Chinese Jesuit esteemed today is Father Wang Jen-sheng, SJ, (d. 1960) who converted to Catholicism despite his family’s disapproval. The good reputation of Jesuit schools in China inspired Wang’s non-Christian parents to enroll him in Shanghai’s St. Ignatius High School in the 1920s, where he often argued with his Jesuit teachers over Christian beliefs. The force of reason that Wang encountered in his Jesuit interlocutors brought him to the waters of baptism, and he was later ordained a priest of the Society of Jesus. Communist officials arrested him in 1953 on the same charges held against his confrere, Father Shen, and he was sent to a state labor camp in Anhui province. Refusing to deny his faith, and after years of maltreatment, Wang died on December 22, 1960. One Chinese Jesuit who knew Wang recalled that he finally died “after a great deal of torment and suffering.”iii

China’s Catholics are particularly attached to the story of the Jesuit priest and writer, Father Wu Ying-feng, SJ, (d. 1976) who was arrested in 1955 and then died of torture during the final year of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Wu had studied at the Sorbonne, and when he returned to his native China he served as the editor-in-chief of Shengxinbao, or Sacred Heart Magazine. He also translated the Confessions of St. Augustine and a biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Refusing to support the party’s efforts to establish a national Church independent of the Holy See, Wu was arrested on September 8, 1955 and accused of being a “counterrevolutionary.” Witnesses recall that when the state officials assembled the Catholic priests into a dining room, Wu “was the first to stretch out his hands . . . in order to be handcuffed.” He was imprisoned in China’s most notorious prison, Tilanqiao, and was later moved to the Anhui labor camp where he endured cruelties because of his resistance to the party.iv

These three Jesuits remain influential examples among Chinese Catholics of the importance of persistence within a political system opposed to religion. The situation for most Chinese Catholics nowadays is better than the era during which these determined Jesuits lived, but a series of official state decrees have meant that churches and the believers who fill them are not without difficulties still. China’s Catholics complain that state religious policies remain a source of religious disorder.

For those attending Mass in both China’s sanctioned and unsanctioned churches, state religious policies loom ominously over their shoulders. Party decrees regarding religious practice are often affixed to the main entrance or an outdoor bulletin board of their church, a constant reminder of required conformity to the state’s insistence on national loyalty over religious belief. These documents typically express two main aims: to avert Vatican influence over China’s faithful and to eradicate the “underground” community. Two excerpts of government decrees governing the life of China’s Catholics illustrate this:

We are determined to crack down on all criminal and counterrevolutionary activities that hide under the cover of religion, … especially imperialist ones like the Vatican and Protestant foreign-mission societies. . . . Our policy is to develop fraternal international contacts with worldwide religions, but firmly resist infiltration by all hostile religious forces from abroad.v

The Catholic Church in China must remain firmly on the [Three-Autonomies] road. The Vatican is, however, again trying to take control over the Chinese Catholic Church. . . . [It is] a political force defying the government and an element that can seriously affect public

In addition to these two state declarations, the party also published a directive entitled, “Destroy Completely the Organization of the Underground Religious Forces,” on February 5, 1991,vii and on August 16, 1999, the party issued another decree, “A Proposal to Reinforce the Work on the Catholic Church under the New Current of Changes,” in which officials again asserted the state’s intention to eliminate “all underground Catholics in China.”viii The contours of China’s official policies regarding the regulation and suppression of religious practice has remained much the same since the 1950s when Chinese and foreign Jesuits were arrested for refusing to either deny their Christian beliefs or denounce their loyalties to the Bishop of Rome. Beginning in the 1980s, Jesuit strategies to preserve the Church in China began to change from a model of resistance to one of rapprochement.

Bishop Gong Pinmei, Sishop Zhang Jiashu, SJ, and Bishop Jin Luxian, SJ (Source: Whitworth University Special Collections)

Seeking Order: China’s Jesuit Strategy of Rapprochement

The religious landscape shifted after the death of Chairman Mao (1893-1976), which changed how Jesuits navigated China’s murky political waters. Soon after Mao’s death, religious practice, which was entirely banned beforehand, was again allowed. By the 1980s, Catholic churches were reopened and the faithful returned to the Sacraments that had been denied them. The situation was far from prefect – loyalty to the pope was still forbidden – but altars were again adorned with tabernacles and candles, and priests again offered Mass and heard confessions. It was the Jesuits who took the lead in restoring order to the Church in what was dispirited and disordered community. While Catholics in China’s “underground” community viewed any form of rapprochement as compromise, many others held the view that without some form of cooperation the Church in China would suffer continued persecution and slowly disappear.

Two Jesuits chose this second option to, as they put it, ensure the Church’s survival in China during Communist rule: Father Zhang Jiashu, SJ, (1893-1998) and Father Jin Luxian, SJ, (1916-2013). Both Zhang and Jin decided that to rebuild the Church in China concessions must be made. When Bishop Gongpinmei was arrested in 1955 for “treason,” Zhang decided to cooperate with the People’s government, and in 1956 he attended the Second Session of the Second Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference as a delegate. In 1957, he helped establish the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and was elected a member of its standing committee. And then on 23 April 1960, he was consecrated the bishop of Shanghai without papal approval. Zhang died while out of communion with the pope, but for many Chinese Catholics he nonetheless helped assure the Church’s survival under communist rule by cooperation with state officials.

The second Jesuit to adopt a strategy of rapprochement was Jin Luxian, who was consecrated a bishop in 1988 without papal approval, but unlike Zhang he was reconciled with the Holy See in 2005 and recognized as a bishop in full communion. Despite his affiliation with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, illicit ordination to bishop, and continued cooperation with the communist party, most of China’s Catholics hold him in esteem. Without Bishop Jin, they insist, the Church in Shanghai would have perished. While Zhang and Jin chose rapprochement, two other Jesuit bishops chose resistance, Fan Zhongliang, SJ, (1918-2014) and Deng Yiming, SJ, (1908-1995), and both these men suffered terrible persecutions for their defiance to the party.

The ongoing debate in China is whether the rapprochement of Zhang and Jin was more or less helpful to the Church in China than the resistance of Fan and Deng. Jesuits I know have opposing opinions on this question.

The Sino-Vatican Agreement: Two Jesuit Paths and One Divided Church

To turn now to the renewal of the Sino-Vatican agreement: Pope Francis’ approach is aligned with rapprochement rather than resistance, and it is too soon to speculate on the long-term results of his tactics. Whatever the outcome, he is a Jesuit, and thus a member of the Roman Catholic order with the most experience dealing with China over the past four centuries.

Several years ago I sat in the small residence of an elderly Chinese Jesuit who had known most of the Jesuits I have described above, and I was struck by the fact that no other Catholic order today has more living memory and experience in China that the Society of Jesus. Truth be told, I do not support the Holy See’s recent agreements with China, but I also acknowledge that there are Jesuits still living in China who have better access to the Church’s situation there than I do.

Here is an example of behind the scenes realities that few, if any, news sources are aware of: According to sources, China’s party authorities threatened to orchestrate the consecration of more bishops without Vatican approval in order to force a formal break with the Vatican by creating a majority of non-papally-approved bishops. This action was promised, I am told, if the Vatican did not sign an agreement. Those in favor of resistance point to the recent spate of cross removals, church destructions, arrests of priests, and policies forbidding minors from attending religious activities. Those in favor of rapprochement point to the fact that the pope now has final say on the election of bishops, all of China’s hierarchy is at last in full communion with the Holy See, and they note that despite continued persecution the situation would be much worse without the agreement.

Whether resistance or rapprochement is the best course for China’s Church at this historical moment is a question that will not be resolved anytime soon, but the outlines of both strategies have been shaped by decades of Jesuit experience with party policies.

One Final Comment: There Are More Factors Than Politics at Play

I’ve entitled this column “China’s Catholic Leviathan” because it ambiguously asks whether the leviathan is the Church’s challenge to China or China’s challenge to the Church. Few women or men born into Western culture can imagine the tremendous authority that cultural identity has upon someone born into East Asian society. The Japanese Protestant, Uchimura Kanzō (1861-1930), once pronounced, “I have two Js and no third; one is Jesus and the other is Japan. I do not know which I love more, Jesus or Japan.” And the famous Japanese Catholic, Endō Shūsaku (1923-1996), the author of Silence, referred to his Catholicism as an “ill-fitting Western suit,” and he noted how he could never wear it comfortably since it is not part of the Japanese wardrobe.

In China, there is a common saying that, Duo yige jidutu bianshao yige Zhongguoren, or “One more Christian is one less Chinese.” I suspect that to Western ears these assertions are either unfathomable or unacceptable, but they are nonetheless a culturally Asian reality one confronts when becoming or being a Christian. Chinese Catholics are pressed between two colossal leviathans, one that tells them to be a Catholic first and another that urges them to be Chinese first. China’s emperors have always held that Chineseness supersedes all other identities, and China’s present rulers maintain the same opinion.

The renewed Sino-Vatican agreement is not merely a religious or political matter; it is couched within larger issues of culture. China’s Catholics are forced to uphold their faith, like Jonah, within a giant leviathan that is China itself, and no-one living outside the Great Wall can fully understand the challenges involved in their struggle.

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook,
Or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?
Can you put a reed through his nose,
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he make many supplications to you?
Will he speak softly to you?
Or will he make an agreement with you?”ix


i “Holy See and China renew Provisional Agreement for 2 years,” Vatican News, 22 October 2020.

ii September 8th Editorial Board (Chinese Jesuits), Blessings of the Divine Bounty of “September 8th (Taipei: Tien Educational Center, 1999), 91.

iii Blessings of Divine Bounty, 88.

iv Blessings of Divine Bounty, 87.

v “Document No. 19,” Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing, 22-30 May, 1980.

vi “Document No. 3,” General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Beijing, 17 February 1989.

vii “Document No. 6,” General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Beijing, 5 February 1991.

viii “Document 26,” General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Beijing, 16 August 1999.

ix Job 41: 1-4.

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About Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. 54 Articles
Anthony E. Clark is an associate professor of Chinese history at Whitworth University and the author of China’s Saints: Catholic Martyrdom During the Qing, 1644-1911. He is also the host of the EWTN television series The Saints of China: Martyrs of the Middle Kingdom.


  1. It seems what is up for debate is what is of value…what is more important, that some semblance of an institution survive, even if twisted into a false institution, or that a true institution be persecuted into near oblivion? And I say “near” since utter eradication is impossible.

    Which is more important, a small core of true faithful or vast numbers poorly formed and even twisted believers going through the motions, and their ultimate fate and welfare unknown?

    Where would Christianity be today had early Christians gone ahead and offered up that pinch of incense so that they would be accepted and even LIKED by everybody? The answer to that is that they would have been absorbed into the sea of approved mystery religions of the times, and disappeared just as thoroughly and completely.

    Keep in mind the PRC is not only controlling homiles, they are rewriting liturgy, prayers, and even santizing the Bible. What manner of “catholicism” survives that, and be in union with the one universal church?

    • What of Thomas Cardinal Tien who was in exile from China? Father Harold Rigney, SVD, who spent “four years ina a red hell” and the many SVD Priests & Brothers who labored in China?

    • To add to this, the author seems of the opinion that Catholicism consists only of pretty Masses and organized rosaries, a common view in the West. And all which western “leaders” seem intent on saving in China, along with somewhat preserving rights of choosing successors in the lead roles of what is essentially reduced to stage managers for a play. The religion is a dao, a way, a path, and not a social circle.

      • “To add to this, the author seems of the opinion that Catholicism consists only of pretty Masses and organized rosaries, a common view in the West.”

        I laughed a loud at that one. A curious and unfounded assertion based on what Dr. Clark has written here. Dr. Clark has a PhD in Chinese history, something he has studied his entire adult life, so I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t have “the common view” of many Westerners. Furthermore, Dr. Clark is a Byzantine Catholic. In addition, he has, over the past 25 years, spent large amounts of time living in China, sometimes for many months, spending time not only in the large cities, but much time in rural villages.

        • Laugh all you wish. His metrics for measuring success of the religion seem entirely external such as numbers of attendees, ability to attend a Mass, organized rosaries and schools, and have not much to do with the interior life which fosters all the doctrine, teachings, codes, practices, and formal worship. The religion stripped of those interior aspects is only a hollow shell amiable to political manipulation, and a project at which the Communists are hard at work, creating a watered down non-threatening to regime false version of the religion.
          So, laugh away. Paul had a poor opinion of academics lost in externals, and it is something I share entirely.

        • You know an official translation of the Bible has Jesus saying “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and then him commence stoning the adulteress? So have I heard. What manner of Christianity survives THAT, I ask you?

  2. Well, even though “I don’t live inside the Great Wall,” I am going to venture an opinion.

    My understanding from reading about the Communist Party in China and its “Cultural Revolution” is that it’s intent is that “The Communist Party” become the cult of China, and that the revolution was aimed at thoroughly eradicating the Confucian culture, and replacing it with the Communist cult.

    Given that this is the case, it seems like a category mistake for a reader to accept the narrative put forward by the “approachment-strategy-Jesuits,” because that strategy rests on a mistake about who and what the Church is encountering. The author explains that in the mind of the “approachment-strategy-Jesuits,” the encounter is between “Chinese identity” and “Catholic identity.” Thst appears to be a gigantic mistake, and a failure to recognize what and who you are dealing with. The Catholic Church in China is NOT encountering Chinese identity, it is encountering The Communist Identity.

    The rapprochement strategy is self-deceit. Chinese identity is not at stake. The Chinese culture no longer exists. Communist Party Identity and cult is what is at stake.

    • Well said, Chris. The author of this article failed to delineate this and it is an obvious reality that you simply point out. So, again, well said.

  3. Very interesting and informative article. The core question on whether the Church should work the Chinese Communist Party is difficult as outlined in the article. The problem as I see it in trying to formulate an opinion is that the Church has more or less caved in a lot of ways to the deadening effects of Western Culture, without any formal agreement.

    If the Catholoc church in the West, walked the talk, it would be in sound position to say no to the Chi. Coms.

  4. This article seems to presuppose that the Chinese Communist government is somehow the legitimate expression of the will of the Chinese people. It is not. It rules by force and terror. It denies basic freedoms. It wants to use Chinese nationalism to force people to adhere to its illegitimate rule, simply because they are Chinese. It views religion as a foreign oppressor sent by Imperial powers, and in so doing merely tries to play on ancient fears in China of being taken over by foreigners. There is no real reason to believe that Chinese will not remain Chinese if they become Christian. However it is true that Chinese will not remain communist if they become Christian. That is what the party really fears.

    • This article seems to presuppose that the Chinese Communist government is somehow the legitimate expression of the will of the Chinese people.

      How so? I kindly recommend a closer reading of Dr. Clark’s essay, then perhaps perusing some of his past essays for CWR. Not all authors have to use flamethrowers and sledgehammers to make their points. Alas, it seems some readers only recognize and respect flamethrowers and sledgehammers.

      • “Alas, it seems some readers only recognize and respect flamethrowers and sledgehammers.” Thank you, Carl, for that image and the wisdom behind it. Because I am responsible for the formation of future priests, so I ever grateful to be able to recommend Catholic World Report to seminarians and others as one of the truly sound, balanced, and reliable sources for authentically Catholic perspectives on what is going on in the Church and wider society.

  5. The ChiComs offered the Globalists a virtually endless supply of dirt cheap forced/slave labor in return for Western technology. This technology transfer occurred as 50,000 U.S. factories were shut down in the USA and set up in China. God only knows how many factories were shut down around the rest of the free world. The ChiComs, of course, also wanted a cut of the obscene profits obtained from the use of dirt cheap forced/slave labor.

    Dems and RINOs, the MSM and the Deep State, are all owned and operated by the ChiCom/Globalist alliance.

    Trump disrupted the alliance’s obscene profit generating gravy train and put American workers first. This explains why the Dems and RINOs, and the MSM and the Deep State have ferociously attacked Trump from the beginning with slander, coup attempts, etc. Their avarice has no bounds and they will destroy anything/anybody who obstructs it.

    The ChiCom/Globalist alliance is after world domination by implementing the “China Model” worldwide, which is a combination of the worst of godless, leftist, totalitarian communism and the worst of crony capitalism. An elite ruling class gets to play at crony capitalism while everybody else is subjected to brutal communist tyranny.

    The China Model will be imposed upon the world by some global authority (run by the alliance behind the scenes) pretending to be necessary because of climate change. They can’t establish such a global authority while there are sovereign nations, which is what they intend on destroying with their push for open borders and their insistence that sovereign America is inherently evil and racist (which is a diabolical lie).

    Now you know what is going on. Biden is the alliance candidate. Trump is the American candidate.

    This is why Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently stated in an interview that

    The outcome of the U.S. election will determine whether the U.S. remains the leading power in the world — for freedom and democracy — or whether a communist dictatorship will assume that role for the global community …

    American Catholics, Christians of other denominations, and all people of faith must render an account to God over whom they make commander of the flagship of the free world … The world is looking to America because this fateful election will determine the future of democracy and human rights for decades to come.

    The rivalry between the U.S. and Communist China is not a sporting competition for the first or second place of superpowers, it is about the irreconcilable alternatives of democracy or dictatorship.

    China has no diversity of political parties, no free parliament, and no democratically elected and therefore legitimate government …

    The article can be read in its entirety here:

    Exclusive: Former Vatican Chief Says ‘Future of Democracy’ at Stake in U.S. Elections

    Please see this Crisis Magazine article. Robert Reilly interviews Harry Wu, a Catholic who spent 19 years in Chinese forced labor camps:

    Harry Wu: One Man Against China

    Please see Wu’s testimony to Congress here:

    Testimony of Harry Wu
    Executive Director, Laogai Research Foundation
    Before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Roundtable on
    Forced Labor In China

    Please Google up

    forced labor china congressional testimony “chris smith”

    The Church must mightily resist the ChiCom/Globalist alliance, not bestow legitimacy upon it.

    • Harry your comments really did not address the contents of the article. However in saying that I agree with your comments. Chi Coms have shown themselves to play the rest of the world to achieve their ends, until President Trump they have gotten away with it.

  6. We read of Pope Francis: “Whatever the outcome, he is a Jesuit, and thus a member of the Roman Catholic order with the most experience dealing with China over the past four centuries.”

    Perhaps his long-memory Jesuits advisors are miffed over losing the Rites Controversy (to the Dominicans) in 1715, and hope they’re replaying the same game again, this time to win. But surely not, since clearly the game board is not the same after four centuries. The civic code of Imperial Confucian China (ambiguously alloyed with ancestor “worship”/or only remembrance?), and Chinese identity, have been trampled by Communist Party China.

    Because of the Rites Controversy the Chinese Emperor Kangxi in 1721 dropped further interest in Christianity. Leaving an unfortunate vacuum later filled in the 20th century by the Western prophet Karl Marx. Today, in 2020, the Communist operatives find the Church to be a useful accessory in “modern” Sinicization. But, as Dr. Clark informs us, even Communist China is possibly as polyglot as it is uniform. So, would things religious be worse without the provisional Agreement? This armchair reader hasn’t a clue, but now having started down this path, for the Church to switch could have irreversible consequences. Nevertheless, the persecutions should be artfully prominent in the engagement.

    But, how can one challenge the incomparable insight of the NON-Jesuit Bishop Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who early in 2018 (Vatican Insider) set the stage by anointed China thusly: “at this moment, those who best realize the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”

  7. Don’t give in to the communists! The key is to resist. So what if one is killed? Saint Francis sought to be martyred. Make sure that it isn’t done in secret (e.g. cell phone video), and a blow will have been struck. Persecution doesn’t work, only corruption. To even partially give in is to admit defeat.

    On a human level, what is necessary is for like-minded people to stick close together and attack any unjust state actors. Even in China, the people outnumber the police. Just because one is typically is defeated by the state doesn’t mean that one has to be. There is strength in numbers, and concerted action. Ambushes are morally permissible provided that someone is being treated unjustly, and therefore is in danger.

  8. Dr. Clark lays out the best possible case for the Vatican’s deal with the CCP and ultimately fails to persuade himself. It is remotely possible that, in spite of the intentions of the Chinese government and the Vatican, the effect of the agreement will be to give a certain breathing space for a Chinese Catholic Church, however compromised, to at least survive, while waiting for a more hospitable time. Insofar as we are evaluating the conduct of Francis and Parolin, the context of the consistent favoritism they display towards Communist regimes and parties in Latin America, Asia, the United States (which go by the name of “Democrats”) and elsewhere cannot be ignored when considering this matter. I know nothing of the Jesuits Dr. Clark mentions in his essay other than what he tells us, but it seems very unlikely that they would approve of the machinations of the current occupants of the Vatican.

    • “…while waiting for a more hospitable time.”

      Under the agreement the Church now selects or at least approves the bishops, more or less. But also, concurrent with the agreement, attendance at Mass does not include family offspring under the age of 18. On the ground, the inter-generational waiting game is not hospitable to the survival of the 21st-century Church. This, in the name of a so-called Sinicization which, itself, is the real sellout to outsiders—namely the 20th-century infiltration by the Western(!) mutation/heresy of communism (beginning with the international Comintern and the 1919 May Fourth Movement).

      • You are right. Probably the best possible outcome of the Sino-Vatican agreement is that the Catholic Church in China will be reduced to the state of the Russian Orthodox Church under the USSR. It likely will turn out to be much worse.

  9. Very pertinent comment, Carl E. Olsen (27th October).
    Who among the author’s more bombastic critics here is as engaged and qualified to assess the state of the Catholic Church in China as Dr. Clark, who is evidently aware of the facility and recklessness of martyr-urging from a comfortable distance as well as, like Fr Matteo Ricci, “the wise man from the West”, the importance of a ‘long-game’ in an ancient culture that for millennia pre-existed its current political overlords and their alien ideology. The Church in China needs urgently, I believe, our fraternal support, ongoing and deepening understanding, and, most importantly, our prayers – not only for her survival but rather for hers and all China’s flourishing according to Christ’s Gospel – remembering always that God has more than a hand and stake in China’s fortunes, past, present and future. Thank you, Dr. Clark.

    • No one is urging Chinese Catholics to rush into martyrdom. The criticism has been directed properly at the Vatican architects who crafted this deal. Maybe we are relying in part on the judgement of Cardinal Zen. Would you characterize him as reckless, ignorant and bombastic? He is definitely not speaking from a safe distance.

  10. Has the question of abortion and family planning/size ever been discussed in the appointment of Bishops who are proposed or agreed to by the PRC and The Holy See? Put another way, has the Pope been agreeing to Bishops who do not agree with Catholic morality? I must think it is impossible to think The Government would propose someone who disagreed with its National policies.

  11. I’ve noticed that whenever an article in the Catholic press prominently features Jesuits, it is about heterodoxy of some sort.


    • Interesting parallels with the struggles between the Nazi attempts to create a Protestant Reich Church and the Confessing Church which opposed them in Germany in the 30’s and early 40’s . Scarily interesting . The Catholic church of the time was of a strength that made it out of bounds for the Nazi’s to attempt to assimilate and neuter it . Instead , their strategy was one of naked , or at best, thinly disguised, hostility .

  12. how is this situation different from the break away English church. Same persecution and consecration of illegitimate bishops. Difference is the open persecution of a million non christians because of their religion. How is this different from reaching agreements with Hitler while he persecuted the jews?

  13. What if Pope Francis believes that valid sacraments are channels of grace for souls? “There will be no more invalid ordinations.” I’m no canonist, but are there suddenly more souls in China who are receiving a valid Eucharist now that their priests are validly ordained? Consider how Pope Francis restored the ability of SSPX priests to give absolution within the sacrament of Reconciliation. More graces to more souls. The Year of Mercy, when it wasn’t a normal jubilee year. Plenary indulgences during the COVID lockdowns. He would like to find a way for divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the Sacraments (though he could just exhort them, in his gentle way, to seek annulments, and he could call on bishops to make sure the annulment process is an opportunity for evangelism and conversion, and not just a legal exercise). What if Pope Francis knows the limits of his earthly influence, and is doing all he can to stack the deck, spiritually speaking, for the spiritual battles to come? If this is his game, he could be amazingly effective. He can take almost all the spiritual territory he wants, since so many earthly powers do not even realize there is a spiritual dimension. It seems like Catholic writers are also oblivious to the spiritual dimension. Forget geopolitics and economic theory for a minute. I’d like to see one of the analysts at CWR or a similar, faithful Catholic outfit, analyze the current papacy, purely in terms of this: are more graces flowing to souls?

  14. As a Chinese Catholic (alas, exiled in the West) I did very much enjoy reading Dr Clark’s very detailed and meticulously researched piece on the history of the Jesuits in China and the Vatican’s decision on the rapprochement with China. I reacted with the Vatican’s decision to extend the deal with dismay, as it will serve the Chinese regime’s interests far more than it did than the faithful Catholics – but it gave an insight into why the Vatican might have ended up with the deal. I concur with one of the above comments that “Dr. Clark lays out the best possible case for the Vatican’s deal with the CCP and ultimately fails to persuade himself.” Me, too.

  15. I believe the main reason why the Communist Party casts a suspicious eye over the Catholic Church in Mainland China is because of the stand held by the Catholic Church in Hongkong. The failure of the Catholic Church in Hongkong to reject these so called “freedom fighters”. Christ in his days had never rejected the Romans or even slavery. Winning souls is more important than winning earthly battles. Christ does not want to take sides in this earthly world.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. China’s Catholic Leviathan: Jesuits and the Sino-Vatican Agreement - Catholic Mass Search
  2. China’s Catholic Leviathan: Jesuits and the Sino-Vatican Agreement – On God's Payroll
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