The Vatican Slant Towards Communist China

While the entire West has publicly voiced its disapproval of how China hid information about the spread of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, as well as its suppression of its own doctors for “rumors and trying to spread panic,” there has been one world leader who has thus far remained silent: Pope Francis.  The Vatican’s present stance towards China has in fact been a favorable one.

Francis had previously praised China’s “great commitment” to contain the coronavirus outbreak -- evidence shows now that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did the opposite -- and said he was praying for the dead, the sick, and families of victims.

On April 9 the Holy See publicly thanked China for its generosity for its donation of medical supplies to the Vatican Pharmacy as the coronavirus has overwhelmed the Italian peninsula.  Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said that the donations are “an expression of the solidarity of the Chinese people… to all those who are committed in assisting people struck by the COVID-19 and in the prevention of the coronavirus epidemic that is underway.”  Bruni went on to say that Pope Francis expressed his “gratitude to the bishops, the Catholic faithful, the institutions and all other Chinese citizens for this humanitarian initiative, [and assured] them of [his] esteem and prayers.” 

While the cordiality by the Vatican spokesman is part of diplomatic protocol, the irony is, as reported by the online journal Crux, the Vatican has so far refrained from making any public statements of recognition for Taiwan’s (officially Republic of China) donation of food and  280,000 medical masks on April 14.

Despite being Taiwan’s sole diplomatic allay in Europe -- Beijing insists Taiwan is a Chinese province and has a policy of diplomatically isolating the Taiwanese -- the Vatican sent a strong signal of where its interests lie by acknowledging China and not Taiwan.

It goes without words the Vatican under Pope Francis wants to establish formal diplomatic ties with Communist China.  In 2018 Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Piero Parolin engineered a  provisional agreement with Chinese officials on the appointment of bishops -- the CCP names bishops for its state Church, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association; the Bishop of Rome approves thereafter.  The Vatican had stated: “Pope Francis hopes that, with these decisions, a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics.”

Prior to the Communist takeover of China in 1949, it is estimated that there were about 3 million Catholics in the country.  Under the slogan of national unity, notwithstanding being an atheist government, China showed a degree of tolerance towards religion.  Eventually, with the goal of placing religion under government control, the CCP subsequently severed ties with the Vatican, deported all foreign missionaries, closed down churches run by foreign bishops and established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in 1957.  In his encyclical Ad Apostolorum principis of July 29, 1958, Pope Pius XII deplored the attitude and activities of the Patriotic Church established by China and declared the bishops who participated in consecrating new bishops selected by the Association to be excommunicated.  Since the 2018 agreement, Pope Francis has recognized the legitimacy of seven Chinese bishops, appointed by Beijing without the Vatican’s approval, in addition to favoring it over the “Underground Church.”

In January the Bishop-Emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has been the leading voice for persecuted Catholics in China, sent a letter to the College of Cardinals imploring them to denounce the recent agreement the Vatican signed with China’s communist government.

Zen, referring to the Vatican document Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China of (June 28, 2019), said:

“First of all, I cannot believe that there is such a statement in the agreement, and I do not see it there.  (By the way, why must such an agreement be secret, and why is it not granted even to me, a Chinese cardinal, to see it?)  But, even more clearly, the whole reality after the signing of the agreement shows that nothing has changed.”

When the press had questioned the Pope on Zen’s appeal, Francis said: “When you make an agreement, both sides lose something. This is the law for both sides. One goes forward, and one goes two steps forward, and months without speaking. And the time of God is like the time of the Chinese. Slowness, the wisdom of the Chinese.”

The Council on Foreign Relations calculates that China is on track to have the world’s largest population of Christians by 2030 with a projection of 247 million.  A Pew research estimates that as of 2010, China is home to approximately between 93 to 115 million Protestants in China; Catholics number about 12 million, though it is unclear exactly how many of them are part of the “Underground Church” that exists parallel to state-sanctioned one.  While these figures only amount to 5%of China’s population, among the 10 countries with the largest Christian population, China ranks seventh.

Such demographics are alarming to the Chinese government because, according to New York Times correspondent in Beijing Javier C. Hernández, Christianity “promotes Western values and ideals like human rights that conflict with the aims of China’s authoritarian government and Xi’s embrace of traditional Chinese culture and Confucian teachings that emphasize obedience and order.”

We must keep in mind that China is one of the greatest violators of human rights, and despite signing an undisclosed deal with the Vatican in 2018, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China reported that religious persecution has increased religious persecution has increased -- local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increased persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy.  The Party-led Catholic national religious organizations also published a plan to ‘‘sinicize’’ Catholicism in China.

Yes, Communist China did send medical supplies to various countries dealing with the coronavirus -- this was in order to save face after it was publicly acknowledged that the CCP had covered up the initial outbreak.  If China did care about human lives, it would stop its human rights violations and become transparent.  Why then does the Vatican remain silent on that, while applauding the Communist regime for providing it with medical supplies?  Perhaps for the same reason it also refused to criticize the intense crackdown and repression of student pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. 

While Vatican diplomacy has always had a long tradition of non-transparency, its silence in comparison to the noise world leaders have made in their criticism of China, has been deafening.

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