The Vatican’s deal with the dragon

When a policy has failed, and been seen to have failed, with the benefit of both hindsight and empirical evidence, it is curious for such a policy to be revived, with both the same arguments and the same culture of secrecy and duplicity in place again.

Yet that is exactly what is happening at this moment as the Vatican and the Communist leaders of China prepare to renew a secret accord which was first agreed two years ago. Officially due for renewal on September 22, many reports indicate that it has already been agreed, in fact, at a September 14th meeting on, of all things, Ostpolitik, Cardinal Parolin stated that the agreement would be renewed by October. The Communist regime in China has persecuted the Church with various levels of attrition since coming to power in 1949. Like Hoxha’s regime in Albania, one of the particular concerns of the Chinese Communist government is that the Catholic Church is a “foreign power,” with foreign leadership, and hence must be brought under the control of the regime. As in other countries, the Communists created the “Patriotic Church” to control every aspect of Church life, in particular appointing bishops independent of the Vatican. A parallel “underground” Church emerged, loyal to Rome, and subject to many kinds of persecution.

The accord, signed in secret, in theory allowed for some kind of unity between the “official” Patriotic Church and the underground Church, especially focusing on the appointment of bishops with both Vatican and government approval. However, it seems to most knowledgable observers that the agreement gave most of the power to the regime and, two years later, more than half of China’s 98 Catholic dioceses are still without bishops. Meanwhile the official doctrine of the Communist party is to “sinicize” every aspect of religious life in China, not only Catholicism. Persecution of the underground Church has continued, with bishops and priests being arrested; just a few days ago, Fr. Liu Maochun, of the Catholic diocese of Mindong, was arrested by the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist State and disappeared for seventeen days.

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