China and the Vat­i­can

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with the Vat­i­can has come un­der scru­tiny again with Bei­jing’s in­stal­la­tion two weeks ago of an­other bishop — the third this year — with­out Vat­i­can con­sent. The re­cent move em­pha­sizes the di­vi­sion be­tween most Catholics and the of­fi­cial Chi­nese Catholic church, and. It also shows that al­though Chi­nese of­fi­cials os­ten­si­bly value bet­ter re­la­tions with the Vat­i­can, their mo­ti­va­tion is self-serv­ing. The Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party rec­og­nizes and sanc­tions only five “pa­tri­otic” re­li­gious groups, in­clud­ing a Catholic or­ga­ni­za­tion. The ma­jor­ity of China’s es­ti­mated 10 mil­lion Catholics, how­ever, prac­tice in un­rec­og­nized and un­sanc­tioned churches — an ex­er­cise strictly banned by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.

Bei­jing in­sists on to­tal con­trol over the ap­point­ment of bishops, and the Commu- nist Party main­tains a stead­fast un­will­ing­ness to per­mit the de­vel­op­ment of any hi­er­ar­chi­cal, na­tion­wide or­ga­ni­za­tion that is not sub­servient to and di­rected by the party’s cen­tral lead­er­ship. Afraid that the Catholic church may fa­cil­i­tate op­po­si­tion to one-party rule rather than shore it up, Chi­nese of­fi­cials se­lect those they con­sider loyal to the Com­mu­nist Party.

The Vat­i­can’s recog­ni­tion of Tai­wan is a sec­ond stick­ing point. Vat­i­can con­ces­sions on both points are a pre­req­ui­site for nor­mal­ized re­la­tions, and Bei­jing may well see closer re­la­tions with the Vat­i­can as a way to pre­serve its con­trol of the Chi­nese Catholic church with the ad­di­tion of chip­ping away at diplo­matic sup­port for Tai­wan.

In April, it ap­peared that China and the Vat­i­can were mov­ing to­ward such an agree­ment. The Vat­i­can was con­sid­er­ing shift­ing its diplo­matic re­la­tions from Tai­wan to China, ac­cord­ing to some re­ports. Chi­nese of­fi­cials, how­ever, pro­ceeded to se­lect two bishops who were not ap­proved by Pope Bene­dict XVI, who noted his “pro­found dis­plea­sure” and an­nounced his in­ten­tion to ex­com­mu­ni­cate the bishops.

The U.S. Com­mis­sion on In­ter­na­tional Re­li­gious Free­dom re­ports that “Catholic re­li­gious lead­ers in China told Com­mis­sion­ers that, though dif­fi­cul­ties and sus­pi­cions re­main, there was some rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the of­fi­cially reg­is­tered church and un­reg­is­tered Catholics. How­ever, most un­reg­is­tered Catholics will not wor­ship in churches of the Catholic Pa­tri­otic As­so­ci­a­tion un­less the bishop or priest is known to be in com­mu­nion with Rome.” Al­though some such priests and bishops have pledged their fi­delity to the pope, the re­port notes, “the Chi- nese gov­ern­ment does not al­low Catholics to run schools or rec­og­nize openly the author­ity of the Pa­pacy in many fun­da­men­tal mat­ters of faith and morals.” When church teach­ings run counter to the rul­ing party’s own doc­trine — as it does on ques­tions of abor­tion, for in­stance — the lat­ter pre­vails, in­vari­ably alien­at­ing Catholics.

While the or­di­na­tion will cer­tainly drive an­other wedge be­tween China and the Vat­i­can, the greater con­cern is with China’s undeterred op­pres­sion of re­li­gion. Even if the Vat­i­can were able to es­tab­lish re­la­tions with China, the ex­tent to which that would pro­vide re­li­gious free­dom to China’s Catholics is far from clear. What does seem clear, how­ever, is that China’s in­ter­est in closer re­la­tions with the Vat­i­can has lit­tle to do with rec­ti­fy­ing the Com­mu­nist Party’s de­plorable record on re­li­gious free­dom.

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