The Chinese government this weekend signed a “provisional agreement” with the Vatican which gives China’s Communist government the power to nominate future leaders of the Catholic Church.
The agreement, announced on Sunday, ends a decades-long fight over who chooses Catholic bishops in the world’s most populous country. While exact details were not made public, those close to the matter insist the pope will have the power to veto any nominee proposed by Beijing.
It is unclear whether the pope will have a say in the choice of nominees or what the vetting process will look like for China’s appointments. The agreement supposedly allows for the possibility of revisions after 1-2 years.
The Vatican and Beijing have not had formal diplomatic ties since China turned Communist in 1949. Since then, the nation’s Catholic population has been split between a state-approved church and an underground church that remains loyal to the Vatican.
Catholicism in China has further eroded under President Xi Jinping and his intensifying crackdowns and surveillance of religious groups.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke insists the aim of the agreement is “not political but pastoral” and that it will allow “the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.”
Let’s remember China’s government is strictly atheist.
Saturday’s agreement “could pave the way to formal diplomatic ties, but it will also anger many Chinese Catholics as a sellout to the Communist government,” notes NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli. “Many underground Chinese Catholics fear greater suppression if the Vatican cedes more control to Beijing. Other Catholics see the accord as a rapprochement that will avert a potential schism.”
As part of the deal, Pope Francis agreed to recognize seven excommunicated Chinese bishops (all of whom were appointed without the Vatican’s approval).
Author’s Note: This is an obscene and vulgar display of lack of respect for the American principle of freedom of religion, but China does not have that freedom (or many others that we enjoy). For the Vatican, this is a strategy to improve ties with the 12 million Catholics living in China. For President Jinping, it could be a strategy to obtain further control over his people and to eventually push them away from Catholicism.