The Vatican is walking into a trap if it does a deal with communist China

Chinese soldiers march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, before the introduction of the Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee (Getty Images)

The negotiations between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China seem to have stalled for the moment, for which we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The reason for the pause are hard to discern but may just have something to do with the status of Taiwan, as this magazine reports. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, all Catholics should have huge sympathy for the brave Taiwanese – who are democrats and who practice religious toleration, and who have lived with the belligerence of mainland China for nearly seventy years. We should pray that Taiwan is not thrown under the bus in the hope of winning the favour of Beijing.

Meanwhile, George Weigel has written a magisterial article on the negotiations which once again reminds us what is at stake religiously, and also from a practical point of view. The entire article should be read attentively. He writes:

The communist regime in China is inherently unstable, despite what appears on the surface to be a successful, alternative model of development. Chinese communism will not rule China forever. And when a post-communist China finally opens itself fully to the world, China will become the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the western hemisphere in the sixteenth century. A Catholicism that has become identified with a discarded communist regime, because the Vatican once conceded the communists a significant role in the Church’s internal life, will be at a grave evangelical disadvantage in the post-communist China of the future….

This is the correct analysis, I am sure. The thought of the Holy See getting into bed with the communists just as the regime faces its sunset is too awful to contemplate. But sadly this is just the sort of mistake that the Church has made in the past, as the author points out. If there is a wrong side of history, you can lay a safe bet that many in the Vatican will want to be on it.

We have been here before, many times. There was the policy of Ostpolitik, of which Weigel writes, but there was also the disastrous concordat with Hitler, which is still being used to discredit the Church. Back in 1933, the Concordat seemed like a good idea. Within 12 years, in 1945, not so much.

The Bible warns us: “Put not your trust in princes.” Wise words indeed. Let’s hope someone in the Vatican takes them to heart.