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Vatican diplomacy making a difference

Six reasons why vocal Vatican advocacy for such basic human rights as religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the press in Hong Kong are necessary.

People at Victoria Park in Hong Kong hold candles June 4, 2021, during the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989. (CNS photo/Lam Yik, Reuters)

This past June 25, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States — usually dubbed the “Vatican’s foreign minister” — told a press conference that he and his colleagues didn’t believe that the Vatican’s speaking out publicly on the massive repression underway in Hong Kong “would make any difference whatever.”

I beg to disagree. Vocal Vatican advocacy for such basic human rights as religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the press in Hong Kong could indeed make a difference. Let me count the ways.

It would make a great spiritual and morale-boosting difference to courageous Hong Kong Catholics like my friend Jimmy Lai, currently in jail, and the noble pro-democracy barrister, Martin Lee. These men rightly wonder why the sounds of silence prevail in Rome while they are being persecuted, prosecuted, and imprisoned for living the truths taught by the Lord they follow and the Church they love.

It would make a considerable difference to hard-pressed Catholics in both Hong Kong and mainland China. Many of these brave men and women feel abandoned by the Church’s central authorities, and they wonder why. They understand that what the Chinese communist government wants is not “dialogue” with the Vatican but the complete subordination of Catholicism to the Chinese party-state and its program of “Sinicizing” all religion. They do not accept the notion that truckling to totalitarians like Xi Jinping will eventually improve their situation, because know that their struggle, like the Church’s struggle in central and eastern Europe after World War II, is a zero-sum game: someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose.

It would make a difference to the future of evangelization in China. The Chinese communist regime is not immortal. When it goes, as it inevitably will, China will become the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the western hemisphere in the 16th century. Comparative advantage will lie with those Christian communities that resisted the loathsome regime that collapsed, not with those that tried to find an accommodation with the unaccommodating. Shortly after Archbishop Gallagher’s remark, National Review editorialized in these terms: “In the future, when China is a free country, it will look back with nothing but disgust on the innumerable American corporations, institutions, and celebrities that helped enable authoritarian rule under some cockamamie misconception that the Chinese people are perfectly content to live indefinitely without the basic freedoms we have taken for granted for more than 200 years.” No Vatican diplomat should want similar contempt to fall upon the Catholic Church.

It would make a difference in restoring the moral authority of the Holy See in world politics. The Vatican has no real power, as the world understands power. Its capacity to shape events, either behind the scenes or at the table of international negotiation, is entirely dependent on the moral leverage it can apply, especially in difficult and seemingly intractable situations. Thanks to the bold public witness of Pope St. John Paul II, such moral leverage was instrumental in shaping the revolution of conscience that preceded and made possible the Revolution of 1989 in east central Europe. Vatican moral authority was also crucial in resisting Clinton Administration efforts to have abortion on demand declared a basic human right at the 1994 Cairo World Conference on Population and Development. In both instances, speaking boldly, publicly, and forcefully make a real difference, turning moral teaching into moral and political leverage. If that lesson has been forgotten in the 21st-century Vatican, it needs to be relearned.

It would make a difference in promoting the Church’s social doctrine, which is too often a matter for the classroom rather than the public square. The resistance Church in Hong Kong and China is not taking its cues from John Locke and Thomas Paine; it is living the basic tenets of Catholic social doctrine and its understanding of the right relationship between Church and state. That social doctrine has applications far beyond China, of course. But if it is seemingly ignored by the highest Church authorities in the hardest cases, then it remains of interest to academics only.

It would make a difference in bringing Luke 22:32 to life in the contemporary Church. The Lord instructed Peter to “strengthen” his brethren. Peter’s brethren in Hong Kong do not feel strengthened by Peter and his closest collaborators in the Vatican today. They feel something quite the opposite. And that is perhaps the gravest reason why the Holy See should reconsider the sounds of silence with respect to Hong Kong and indeed all of China.

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About George Weigel 484 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Gosh, what a wonderful article! What has happened to the Vatican? Such timidity. Where is that faith in the power of the risen Christ? The timidity is so shameful.

  2. If the negligent and failing “hierarchs” of the Catholic Church ever truly sought to “reform” themselves, by conforming to Christ, they would restore the Congregation for the Faith as the most important Church Congregation, and demote and devolve the massive power of the Vatican Secretariat of State, by which Pope Paul VI made “worldly affairs” the Vatican’s priority, and subordinated even the Faith itself to the affairs of state. The Pontiff Francis has seen fit to magnify the power of the Secretariat of State, and establish it as a “super-Congregation” governing all other Congregations, and it pleased the Pontiff Francis to further attack the Congregation for the Faith, by demoting it from the secondary rank that Pope Paul gave it, and push it down further to third tier status, deep inside the new bloated “Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.”

    Apparently the “COngregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” exists to spread “the Gospel of the Secretariat of State” and its “gnostically-secret” China Accord, by which the Pontiff Francis and his spokesman Bishop Sorondo teach the “New-Evangelization,” which is purely and simply this: “At this moment, the Chinese are the ones who are best achieving the social doctrine of the Church.”

    No one should be surprised that the logical result of 50 years of prioritizing “the Secretariat of State” over “The Faith” has resulted in the Church in 2021 literally being used “to magnify the anti-Christ” of the fanatically evil Communist ideology, and as Fr. Imbelli warned, “decapitate” Christ as head of the Church.

    After 50 years of “re-engineering” our beloved Catholic Church is now in the hands of false shepherds, whom Jesus rightly called “robbers and thieves.”

    So much for “the reform.”

  3. When you make a deal with the devil, you better not criticize him for doing the work of the devil. Gallagher, Parolin and Bergoglio know their places with the Chinese Communist Party. All they need to do is sign off on the episcopal appointments made by the atheist, communist government. And shut up about Hong Kong. Oh yeah, and shut down faithful Catholics like the underground church and TLM-ers.

  4. As always, Mr Weigel, your comments are spot on. But this Pope does not think of those in Hong Kong. As you say, “This past June 25, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States — usually dubbed the “Vatican’s foreign minister” — told a press conference that he and his colleagues didn’t believe that the Vatican’s speaking out publicly on the massive repression underway in Hong Kong “would make any difference whatever.” Do they not care! Are they just leaving the Hong Kong catholics to their own devices? We need a leader in the Vatican!

  5. “What difference at this point does it make?” SEC STATE Clinton, 23 JAN 2013.

    …seems like TPTB copy one another, eh?

    Just remember, Folks: HE is still in charge. And HE will ask for “ACCOUNTABILITY.”

  6. “They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world FROM WITHIN AS LEAVEN” (Lumen Gentium, n. 31).

    Still, there’s an important difference between “riding the back of the tiger,” and “leavening from within.”

  7. All not simply excellent, also necessary. Most important, “It would make a considerable difference to hard-pressed Catholics in both Hong Kong and mainland China” (Weigel). All else if possible follows. Reestablishing Catholicism as the world’s moral authority where it matters, the religious rights of the faithful far outweighs ecology. Our Vatican has recreated the Church as a facsimile of the global NGO. If anything credentialed commentators, journalists, laity at large especially on the internet, and of course bishops and cardinals can make a difference letting the world know there still is a moral voice within the Church. We cannot permit George Soros [Soros once said I’m like God! I tell the pope what to do.], Jeffrey Sachs [prominent invitee to Vatican Dicasteries], Bill Gates continue to surreptitiously manage Vatican policy, “The Vatican is drawing closer to the U.N. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation radically advocates contraception in developing countries and works closely with Jeffrey Sachs. In November 2020 Pope Francis received Melinda Gates in an unpublicized private audience, sources have told the Register. Vatican communications officials and the Gates Foundation declined to confirm or deny whether such a meeting took place” (Pentin NCR). Just as Vatican diplomacy secretly betrayed China’s Catholics, His Holiness’ Vatican covert diplomacy is subverting Catholicism.

    • Alway admire your comments Father, but noting these elitist secularizing trends of this pontificate is your most urgent observation to date. I hope uncritical Francis fans don’t come back here to say how wonderfully insightful it is for Francis to buddy up with George Soros.

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