The bitter fruit of the secret Vatican-Beijing accord

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 22, 2020

As you may already have seen, Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit-run Vatican journal, is now available in China. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, welcomed the appearance of the Chinese edition as “fruit of the friendly encounter with the rich tradition of the Chinese people.”

It isn’t surprising that China would welcome Civilta Cattolica. The magazine has enthusiastically supported Pope Francis in his outreach to the Beijing regime. Its editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, traveled to Beijing last June to organize a “Forum for Civilizational Dialogue.” The current issue features an editorial entitled: ”Confidence in the Journey of the Church in China.”

But let’s take a closer look. What is this “friendly encounter” between Rome and Beijing? What other fruit has it borne? And when a Vatican journal expresses “confidence” about the Church in China, doesn’t that imply that there’s a question being asked: a reason why some people might not feel confident?

The question that’s being asked (although not by the docile Civilta editors) is whether the secret agreement between the Vatican and Beijing has helped or harmed the Catholic Church in China. The agreement, concluded in September 2018, was intended to resolve tensions between the “official” and “underground” wings of Chinese Catholicism—one loyal to Beijing, the other to Rome. In particular, the accord allowed for the appointment of new bishops who would be recognized by both the Holy See and the government-controlled Patriotic Association.

For years, to avoid aggravating the problems faced by “underground” prelates, official Vatican publications had not listed information about the bishops serving in China. Now a full, approved list is available. It’s revealing.

Today there are 394 dioceses in China. Of these, 74 do not have a bishop. Among the bishops currently heading Chinese dioceses, many are well beyond the normative retirement age: six are over the age of 90 and another four are over 85. So, eighteen months after the agreement that theoretically ended an impasse over the appointment of bishops, the problem of appointments has evidently not been resolved.

Still the Vatican insists on expressions of “confidence” about the future of relations with China. (When the Civilta editorial referred to a “journey,” you should have noticed that it’s the future that inspires confidence, certainly not the present.) But while we wait for the promised future of happy relations, the news from China remains bleak; loyal Catholics are suffering, as the Communist regime tightens its grip on the churches.

Just since the beginning of this year:

That “fruit of friendly encounter” that Cardinal Parolin cited may taste sweet for Communist Party officials—and for Vatican officials intent on pursuing the same policy—but for many thousands of Catholics it is bitter. A US Congressional report in January found that restrictions on the Catholic Church have increased since the signing of that secret pact with the Vaitcan, as “local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increasing persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy.”

This week the Vatican took another step on its “journey” toward rapprochement with the Beijing regime, sending a message of thanks to China for the donation of medical equipment to fight the CO19 epidemic. (The Vatican had not thanked Taiwan for an earlier donation, no doubt because a nod toward Taiwan would offend Communist Party leaders on the mainland.) Cardinal Raymond Burke was right to question that message of obeisance to Beijing, and to ask why China enjoys “a place of privilege with the Vatican” despite an appalling record of anti-Catholic oppression.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 30, 2020 4:08 PM ET USA

    Thank you for bringing this up. At some point, either Pope Francis or his apologists will have to explain publicly to the Church the motivations behind the 'China accord.' Right now it looks diabolic; a Faustian Bargain of some kind that plunges already suffering Church deeper into the abyss of martyrdom.

  • Posted by: marynadononeill1042 - Apr. 26, 2020 10:23 AM ET USA

    Apparently there is a plan in place from the CCP (important to distinguish between the communist party and China or the Chinese people) to use soft power to 'compromise' and buy the West. Pope probably thinks this is progress because there is dialogue, but CCP see another opportunity to usurp. Will there be another revolution in China to bring democracy? The Church in China looks to be a political pawn sadly. Could the Church be part of a fight for freedom and justice instead? Let's pray it is.

  • Posted by: canónigoregular - Apr. 25, 2020 12:54 AM ET USA

    Responding to 'shrink' below: Bingo! I cannot imagine any curia putting this kind of positive spin on such a betrayal of faithful, persecuted Catholics for less than one billion.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Apr. 24, 2020 2:36 PM ET USA

    Apparently, Rome believes that the agreement succeeded. After all, the agreement resolved the tension between the official and the underground church, it killed the underground church.

  • Posted by: Montserrat - Apr. 23, 2020 11:35 AM ET USA

    Satan's presence in the Vatican is no longer just smoke. It is an outright "in your face" manifestation of evil, brought to you by Jorge Bergoglio and "The Company" (as Jesuits like to call themselves), along with a supporting cast of corrupt prelates of various stripes and colors (including lavender). If this sounds bitter and morose, you hear correctly.

  • Posted by: Cory - Apr. 22, 2020 11:51 PM ET USA

    So, to be loyal to Beijing is to be loyal to Rome? Beijing=Rome? Extremely frightening.

  • Posted by: shrink - Apr. 22, 2020 6:59 PM ET USA

    “Why does (Communist) China enjoy a place of privilege...” Follow the money! Discover who in the Vatican has personally profited from chicom cash, and we’ll have the answer to Burke’s question.