Friday, February 02, 2018

“Pope Francis” Bows to China with Concession on Bishops

The subhead for this story, which is behind a pay wall, is “Vatican to move to end standoff and gain authority by recognizing seven excommunicated prelates”. Essentially, “Pope Francis” is selling out the “underground” Roman Catholic Church in China, in favor of reinstating “state-approved” (but heretofore excommunicated, some “explicitly” so) bishops.

In the process, he has asked “legitimate bishops”, those in the underground Church, to step aside.

Pope Francis has decided to accept the legitimacy of seven Catholic bishops appointed by the Chinese government, a concession that the Holy See hopes will lead Beijing to recognize the pope’s authority as head of the Catholic Church in China, according to a person familiar with the plan.

For years, the Vatican didn’t recognize their ordinations, which were done in defiance of the pope and considered illicit, part of a long-running standoff between the Catholic Church and China’s officially atheist Communist Party.

The pope will lift the excommunications of the seven bishops and recognize them as the leaders of their dioceses, according to the person familiar with the situation. A Vatican spokesman declined to comment.

The decision reflects the Holy See’s desire for better relations with China—a country where Christianity is growing fast, though mostly in the form of Protestantism—and for an end to division between a government-controlled church and a larger so-called underground church loyal to Rome.

The pope’s conciliatory approach is especially stark at a moment when China is tightening its grip on religious practice under the more assertive leadership of President Xi Jinping.

Many Catholic parishioners and priests in China have shunned state control—and state-appointed bishops—to keep faith with the Vatican. Believers have been imprisoned, harassed and otherwise persecuted.

The Italian Journalist Sandro Magister this morning published a column on this very topic, citing the Cardinal/Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun.

The Cardinal had written in his own blog: “So, do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months.”

That conditional “if” is a hallmark of Vatican II language. It gives the Cardinal an “out” from the claim that he has criticized the Vatican. Still, it’s telling that even the conditional chastisement goes as far as it does.

This morning the WSJ noted this comment in an editorial, and continued:

Human rights in China are worsening, particularly for believers. The government is starting to enforce anti-religion laws long honored in the breach, such as restricting Mass attendance at underground churches. Christians continue to be arrested. And the government continues to tear down churches, most recently an evangelical mega-church built with $3 million in contributions from local worshippers in one of China’s poorest regions.

Some suspect that this Vatican accommodation is about paving the way for a papal visit to China, or a historic deal normalizing relations between Rome and Beijing. If so the damage will carry an even higher price, because it is difficult to imagine such a rapprochement without the Vatican’s first agreeing to break relations with Taiwan and abandon its Catholics there. The history of China shows it is adept at exploiting foreigners too eager for a deal.

Perhaps Pope Francis will be vindicated. But it’s telling that in pursuit of this accommodation he has had to shut out Cardinal Zen, who has had long, hard experience dealing with Beijing. Perhaps someone ought to remind the Vatican that the Lord’s advice was to “render unto Caesar ” not surrender to Caesar.

Napoleon famously said, “don’t interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”. In that sense, it has been interesting to sit back and watch as “Pope Francis” has worked systematically to dismantle some of the Medieval iterations of the Roman Catholic empire.

It’s important for us to remember, however, that he is also playing with people’s lives. Lots of them.

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