The Holy See confirmed a two-year extension of a controversial arrangement with the Chinese government on Thursday. The official announcement of the deal’s extension came one day after the Vatican’s top diplomat, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, signalled that news of the renewal of the agreement, originally reached between the Holy See and China in September of 2018, would be coming some time Thursday.
Little is known about the precise terms of the arrangement, except that it involves input from the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops to Chinese dioceses.
Critics and sceptics have said the accord cedes too much control of internal Church affairs to a secular power ill-disposed to religious believers in general and increasingly willing to intrude on ecclesiastical life. Senior churchmen are privately concerned in these and related regards. One in particular has been vocal in his public opposition to the deal.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has warned that the diplomatic efforts to secure some limited space for the Church in Chinese life are basically playing the future against the present. “Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.” Cardinal Zen was speaking to the Catholic News Agency, specifically addressing what he saw as the Holy See’s willingness to soft-pedal opposition to China’s extensively documented human rights abuses.
Cardinal Zen also told CNA there are already consequences for the Church’s ability to advocate and work her work off the mainland. “In this moment,” Zen said in connection with the continuing unrest on Hong Kong, where opposition to a stringent new security law has been significant and sustained, “democracy means freedom and human rights, human dignity.”
More recently, Cardinal Zen has been even more blunt — and personal — in his criticism of Cardinal Parolin’s management of the multifaceted affair. “Parolin knows he himself is lying. He knows that I know he is a liar. He knows that I will tell everyone that he is a liar,” Zen wrote earlier this month in response to a speech in Milan in which Parolin laid out the Vatican’s case for going forward with the provisional agreement.
Zen took especial exception to the assertion from the Vatican side, that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI had approved the deal.
For their part, senior Vatican diplomats have acknowledged that the agreement is far from perfect, but appear reluctant to make the perfect the enemy of whatever good there may be found in proceeding along the lines established.
“This is a thought-out decision, taken after many years, many years of being on a path in this direction,” Cardinal Parolin told journalists on the sidelines of a recent gathering of world figures including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has repeatedly pressed the Vatican to take a more hard-nosed stance. “We know that that there is much resistance,” Parolin said, “even criticism,” and noted, “we take it into consideration, because this is an extremely delicate matter.”
“We’re optimistic the Chinese authorities will wish to continue the dialogue with the Holy See within the agreed terms of the accord, and we move forward,” the Vatican’s Secretary of State for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, told Crux in an interview earlier this month. “The fact we have managed to get all the bishops of China in communion with the Holy Father for the first time since the 1950s, and that the Chinese authorities allow the pope a modest say in the appointment of bishops but ultimately the final word, is quite remarkable,” Gallagher also said.
Below is the full text of the communiqué from the Press Office of the Holy See, in its official English translation.
Communiqué on the extension of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China regarding the appointment of Bishops, 22 October 2020
Upon the expiration of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China regarding the appointment of Bishops, which was signed in Beijing on 22 September 2018 and took effect one month later, the two Parties have agreed to extend the experimental implementation phase of the Provisional Agreement for another two years.
The Holy See considers the initial application of the Agreement – which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value – to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the Parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people.
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