In October, the Vatican announced that it had extended its deal with Beijing with regard to the appointment of bishops in China. The new agreement renews the historic China-Vatican deal signed in 2018. However, it continues to be a cause of concern since the deal basically gives the Chinese communist regime control over how Christianity operates in China, thereby violating the idea of religious freedom.
According to the agreement, China has formally acknowledged that the Pope has the final say as to who should be appointed as bishops in the Catholic Church. In exchange, the Vatican will legitimize the bishops that have been appointed by Beijing.
“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… [the Holy See] intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people,” the Vatican said, according to The New York Times.
A note released by the Vatican’s official newspaper states that all bishops in China are already in communion with the Bishop of Rome and that due to the China-Vatican deal, there will never be any more illegitimate ordinations.
However, the agreement has come under fire from orthodox forces within the Catholic Church who claim that the deal basically glosses over the suffering of true believers who have been refusing to recognize the bishops appointed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus have been suffering at the hands of the communist forces. Such critics see the agreement as sanctioning Beijing’s religious and human rights violations.
To make matters worse, the contents of the China-Vatican deal remain a secret. According to the Catholic Church, this is being done due to its “experimental nature.” In September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly asked the Vatican to terminate its relationship with the CCP in order to maintain its moral standing.
The Vatican retaliated by not allowing Pompeo to have a meeting with the Pope, once again making it clear that the Church values improved relations with China over ensuring its followers have the freedom to practice their faith as it is. The official Vatican newspaper insisted that the China-Vatican deal should not be looked at from the viewpoint of geopolitics, but only as an internal church issue.
Even though the China-Vatican deal makes it seem as if Beijing is okay with its Christian population observing their faith, the reality is far from it. Catholics are expected to join the Party-approved Patriotic Church in order to be considered “real” Christians. Recently, eight nuns from the province of Shanxi were forced to leave the convent after being repeatedly harassed by local authorities. These nuns were under constant surveillance due to the fact that they had lived abroad.
In August, officials demanded the removal of the cross from the convent, which ended up making the nuns decide to leave. One of the nuns stated that the removal of the cross felt like cutting one’s own flesh. In addition to the cross, authorities also asked the nuns to remove all religious symbols and statues within the convent.