The following article is by Tess Livingstone, writing for The Australian:
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit the nail on the head. The Vatican, he said in Rome this week for a conference on religious freedom, should renounce its pact with the Chinese Communist Party.
The agreement is about to be renewed, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin confirmed recently. As Pompeo says: “It jeopardises the church’s moral authority.’’
In China, Catholic priest Father Liu Maochun, from the southeastern province of Fujian, would agree. Police took him away on September 1 while he was visiting patients in hospital. As Turin-based religious freedom watchdog Bitter Winter has established, Liu was detained and tortured by a method known as “exhausting an eagle’’. A bright light was shone into his eyes for several days while a gong was banged beside his ears.
The sleep deprivation was designed to make the priest abandon the traditional church and join the officially sanctioned Patriotic Association.
To the chagrin and embarrassment of Christians who are aware of it, the CCP-Vatican pact puts the church, especially Pope Francis, who is primarily responsible for it, on the wrong side of history. Francis is not meeting Pompeo this week, ostensibly because “I will not meet with political personalities amid electoral campaigns to avoid any kind of manipulation”.
What is more extraordinary is that he also refused to meet another recent visitor to the Eternal City — Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, 88, who made the trip to discuss renewal of the pact. Zen has been its sternest opponent since it was signed two years ago.
“I waited four days to be called, but I have not been called,’’ Zen lamented to Vatican journalists last week. “And so today I am going back to Hong Kong … We are now at the bottom.’’ So much for the Vatican’s upcoming synod on “synodality’’.
One of Zen’s concerns is the appointment of a new bishop for Hong Kong to fill a vacant post. He fears the church in the former British colony, which recently lost its fight to preserve the freedoms it was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” principle in the 1997 handover, is to be ruled by a bishop who has China’s support but not that of the local flock.
The CCP-Vatican deal has never been sighted. Transparency is not a strong point of either regime. But it hands the Chinese state considerable power over bishops’ appointments.
Such power was not even part of the notorious Reichskonkordat of July 1933 between the Vatican and the newly formed Nazi government in Germany.
Until now, that shameful pact, signed by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII), Vatican secretary of state under Pope Pius XI, was the last time the church made such a blunder with a totalitarian regime.
Less than four years later, in March 1937, Pius XI backpedalled in an encyclical (the highest form of papal letter) Mit Brennender Sorge (with Burning Anxiety). He condemned racial theories and the mistreatment of people on the grounds of their race or nationality. It did not refer to Hitler or the Nazis by name but the letter was addressed only to the church in Germany.
This time, the church still has a chance to get out while it can. If it fails to take it, it will wear the historical opprobrium. As Zen says, if and when, sometime in future, “people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome”.
The portents were bad when the pact was finalised on September 22, 2018. And much has deteriorated since. Australians are well aware of China’s aggression in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan, its persistent cyber-attacks and “soft power’’ incursions into universities and politics, the problems of the “Thousand Talents” and its manipulative Belt and Road program.
Francis is vocal about climate change and condemning market capitalism, but his silence about China’s human rights record, including religious freedom, is deafening. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently identified 380 internment camps for the Uighur Muslim minority in far western China, despite Chinese claims that “re-education’’ was winding down. Witnesses attest to widespread forced abortions and sterilisations. Vatican apologists for the secret pact like to claim it brought to fruition the work of previous popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Both wanted progress with China. But they were not prepared to make the compromises this pact entails.
Nor, as its backers pretend, has it helped Chinese Catholics or unified the Patriotic Association and the traditional, underground church, except in a few cases by force.
After the first agreement, Vatican-based Argentinian Bishop Sanchez Sorondo made the ludicrous claim that the Chinese state exemplified Catholic social justice teaching.
Under Xi Jinping’s “sinicisation of religion’’ diktat, even Patriotic Association churches as well as traditional churches are under pressure, with religious signage and imagery destroyed or replaced. Mao instead of the Virgin Mary; Xi instead of Jesus.