Underground Catholics in China have called on Beijing and the politburo for deceiving the Vatican in the controversial deal for allowing the Communists to meddle in bishop appointments that has resulted in the existence of parallel churches with contradicting policies and teachings.
BEIJING, — Pope Francis, however, has expressed his desire to continue to have a dialogue with Beijing despite the challenges. He has mentioned and defended the Vatican’s controversial deal with communist China as the dialogue progressed, saying the Church should move forward despite the chances of being deceived and making mistakes.
Speaking in a rare 90-minute interview with the radio network Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (COPE), the pontiff admitted that “China is not easy,” but he added he is convinced a dialogue should not be given up.
“You can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that…but it is the way. Closed-mindedness is never the way,” Francis said.
The Vatican faced fierce criticism from underground Catholics in China, diplomats and church leaders when it signed the deal on bishop appointments in September 2018 for two years. Despite critics accusing the Vatican of surrendering itself to the Chinese government, the deal was renewed in 2020.
“Even when I was a layman and priest, I loved to show the way to the bishop; it is a temptation that I would even say is licit if it is done with goodwill,” Francis reminisced when asked if the moral authority of the Vatican suffered when it entered into an agreement with China.
The experimental deal reportedly agrees on a procedure for Catholic communities in China to choose their bishops, with the pope approving them before their ordinations and installations. But what has been achieved in China was…some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly.
The appointment of bishops is a major hurdle in Vatican-China relations for decades. While the Vatican insisted on appointing bishops as the Church’s prerogative, the Chinese government saw it as interference by a foreign power in its internal affairs.
Since 2018, at least five bishops have been appointed under the terms of the agreement, while the Vatican has recognized at least seven China-appointed bishops, including a bishop who died in 2018.
Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (COPE) is owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference. (TRC/The MiNT)
Featured image: Greetings. Retired archbishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, meets with Francis during his general audience at the Vatican, January 2018.