The Vatican ‘clarification’ on China talks only makes things worse

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 30, 2018

In its statement on the controversy surrounding talks between the Holy See and Beijing, the Vatican has affirmed what was never in question, while leaving the key question unanswered—at best.

The January 30 statement from the Vatican press office is brief enough to be quoted in full:

The Pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the Secretariat of State, on Chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in China and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention. It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy.

This statement appears, of course, in the wake of an impassioned plea from Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has repeatedly warned that Vatican negotiators do not recognize the dangers of appeasing Beijing. Cardinal Zen did not charge that the Holy Father was failing to listen to his advisers in the Secretariat of State. Quite the contrary. The Chinese cardinal worried aloud that the Pope might only listen to the Vatican negotiating team, and would not hear the anguished voices of loyal Catholics in China. So the emphatic statement that the Pope is listening to his negotiators is not likely to reassure Cardinal Zen and those who share his concerns.

And actually it’s worse than that. In his public statement, Cardinal Zen made a point of sparing the Holy Father from direct criticism; he suggested that the Pope himself was not aware of talks about removing faithful Chinese bishops and replacing them with government-backed prelates. If there was any point on which the cardinal claimed a rift between the Pope and his advisers, it was here: Cardinal Zen said that the Pope was not responsible for that plan. Now, by saying that the Pope is completely in tune with his collaborators, the Vatican is giving the impression that the Holy Father did fully approve the plan.

If that is the true meaning of the Vatican statement, it is likely only to inflame the controversy. If that is not the intent, it has perpetuated the confusion.

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 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Philopus - Jan. 31, 2018 5:25 PM ET USA

    "...has perpetuated the confusion." Unfortunately this is a very familiar assessment.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 30, 2018 8:23 PM ET USA

    Sadly, Card. Zen predicted these problems years ago. In 2014, "Card. Zen said that Pope Francis should not visit China because he would be manipulated by the Beijing regime. He said that Chinese government officials would prevent the Pontiff from meeting with members of the underground Catholic Church, and would look for opportunities to use the papal visit as a means of gaining credibility for government - approved bishops." https://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=21910