- Despite the opposition from the United States and the Chinese Catholic underground church, the Vatican renewed a secret agreement reached in 2018 with China
- The supporting voices believe that this is the first step in solving a series of problems faced by Catholicism in China.
- Critics say this is to please the CCP and betray the values of the Catholic Church.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), on Thursday, the Vatican and China renewed a secret agreement reached in 2018. Both the United States and the pastors of the Chinese Catholic underground church loyal to Rome warned that the signing of the agreement actually made them even more marginalized.
In order to ease the internal division of the Catholic Church, which has 12 million followers in China, the agreement signed between the Chinese government and the Vatican stipulates that both the Beijing authorities and the Vatican have the right to appoint archbishops.
In order to stop the continued implementation of the agreement, Washington imposed strong pressure on the Vatican on the grounds that the signing of the agreement did not protect Chinese Catholics from persecution.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, said on Thursday, “the Chinese and Vatican parties have dialogued and certainly the provisional agreement is and remains the strong basis for continuing the dialogue.”
He also stated at a regular press conference that the two sides will continue to maintain close communication and consultations and continue to promote the process of improving relations.
In February of this year, the Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher met with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the highest level of official contact between the two countries in decades.
The Vatican issued a statement saying that they discussed the historic interim agreement for the appointment of bishops signed by the Holy See and the Chinese government in 2018.
The Chinese Communist government severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church in 1951, forcing Catholics to choose between a patriotic church and an underground church loyal to Rome.
AFP reported that from an official point of view, the Communist Party is atheist, and at the same time it implements strict censorship and monitoring of all recognized religious institutions, including the review of the content of its sermons.
Followers who are not recognized by the Communist Party claim that they have been targeted by the authorities in recent years. This includes destroying their underground churches, persecuting the believers, and forcing their pastors to change their positions.
The Underground Church is Marginalized
While some people think that the newly renewed agreement between Beijing and the Vatican is a pragmatic compromise, others worry that the underground church will become more marginalized.
A pastor in Jiangxi told AFP, “the situation has not improved at all.” The pastor, who is reluctant to reveal his identity for security reasons, said that the government has banned him from presiding over religious services.
The pastor believes that the newly renewed agreement will make Catholics feel “helpless and hopeless.”
AFP reported that China’s official pressure was evident from the resignation of Guo Xijin, the auxiliary bishop of Mindong District, Fujian Province this month.
A person familiar with the matter told AFP that Guo’s reason for resigning was actually a protest against his pressure to join the official church. Bishops will be required to do so in the agreement signed by China and Vatican in 2018.
Other members of the underground church, including Bishop Cui Tai of Xuanhua Diocese of Hebei Province, are still under house arrest.
Supporters of the China-Vatican Agreement are because the task of the agreement has never been to solve all the remaining problems, but it is indeed the first step that will benefit Chinese Catholics on a large scale.