China-Vatican agreement raises concerns about persecuted Christians

Remigio Civitarese
Settembre 26, 2018

"I believe that by signing the agreement, the will of the pope is to promote religious freedom rather than to establish diplomatic relations with China, there is no need to politicize" the text, judge Yuan Shi-min, faithful to Our Lady of Fatima in Taipei.

It "deeply loved the motherland" and "sincerely endorsed" the agreement, hoping relations between China and the Vatican would improve further, it added in comments on its website.

Seven Roman Catholic bishops appointed by the Chinese government will now be recognised by the Pope, as it was announced on September 22.

Chinese Catholics have mixed feelings about the Vatican's landmark deal with Beijing: Some in the unofficial "underground" church remain suspicious of the government while others "pray for the best".

The development comes almost seven decades after the Holy See and Beijing severed official relations. The Holy See is the only country in Europe with diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and its latest step may prompt other Christian countries to sever ties with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, and enhance ties with China.

Burke told reporters the aim of the accord "is not political but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities".

The Vatican recognized another bishop, but he died past year.

Over the last few months, local governments across China have shut down hundreds of private Christian "house churches".

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the outspoken former Bishop of Hong Kong, accused Vatican officials of "selling out" ahead of Saturday's agreement and in a blog post shortly after the announcement he raised concern over its impact.

The deal also did not address the fate of underground bishops faithful to the Vatican who have always been suppressed and in some cases are still being imprisoned, Ying said.

China's roughly 12 million Catholics are divided between an underground Church that swears loyalty to the Vatican, and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.

The bone of contention between Beijing was who the Chinese followers should listen to, - either the Communist Party, the absolute power in China, or the pope. Pope Francis' pursuit of the deal has largely reflected his desire to end divisions between those two groups.

"There is on one hand a little bit of joy, because something is happening, there is a provisional agreement, but there is a lot of sadness because many problems remain open, above all the fact that many bishops have been disappeared at the hands of the police", he told CNN.

The current Taiwan government has taken a toughened line against Beijing, which knows that turning the Vatican would be "a major blow to Taiwan's diplomacy", Ying said.

The Vatican has stressed the deal is strictly about the appointment of bishops and has nothing to do with Taiwan, which the Vatican still recognises diplomatically. Antoine Camilleri, undersecretary for foreign relations in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Wang Chao, Chinese deputy foreign minister.

As part of the deal, the pope recognised seven Beijing-appointed bishops.

Although the terms of the accord have not been made public, informed sources at the Vatican have confirmed that under the agreement, the Beijing government will name candidates for episcopal office, with the Pope allowed a choice from among the government's nominees.

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