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Pope Asks Chinese Catholics To Trust Him On Deal They Say Ignores The Underground Church

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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  • Pope Francis responded to initial ire over the Vatican’s provisional deal with China to recognize seven state-approved bishops without acknowledging bishops of the underground church.
  • The pontiff clarified that he and the Vatican had not ceded authority.
  • Francis also pointed out the deal is subject to change and that, while it should foster cooperation between the church and China, Catholics were still free to criticize injustice in the country.

Pope Francis urged Chinese Catholics on Wednesday to trust the Vatican’s deal with China, despite criticism that the Vatican has conferred too much authority to Beijing.

Francis clarified that he, not the Chinese government, would name bishops to Chinese dioceses and that those appointed as bishops would not be puppets of China’s communist government, but would be “true shepherds.”

Chinese Catholics expressed misgivings about the new provisional deal between China and the Vatican, which includes the Vatican’s acceptance of seven bishops previously appointed by Beijing without papal approval, especially since it made no mention of the fate of some 40 bishops of the underground church that the Holy See previously suggested should be officially recognized by Beijing in return for accepting the seven state-approved bishops. (RELATED: China Goes Digital In Crackdown On Religion, Online Religious Instructors Forced To Register And Qualify As ‘Politically Reliable’)

Francis acknowledged that news of the deal, which was signed Saturday morning, had caused “a certain confusion and prompted different reactions in the hearts of many.”

“Some feel doubt and perplexity, while others sense themselves somehow abandoned by the Holy See and anxiously question the value of their sufferings endured out of fidelity to the Successor of Peter. In many others, there prevail positive expectations and reflections inspired by the hope of a more serene future for a fruitful witness to the faith in China,” Francis said in a letter to the faithful, according to Crux Now.

The pontiff nevertheless asked Chinese Catholics to “place your trust ever more firmly in the Lord of history and in the church’s discernment of his will,” according to The New York Times.

Critics like Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen called the deal an “incredible betrayal” of Catholics in China who refused for years to bow to communist-government overreaches in managing church leadership and teaching and chose to attend “underground” churches led by bishops secretly appointed by the Vatican.

Francis, however, highlighted the deal’s provisional nature, saying that it is “necessarily capable of improvement,” and that it is a necessary tool to foster healthier cooperation between China and the Catholic Church. The Holy See, however, would not be shortchanged in this arrangement, according to the pontiff.

“For the first time, the Agreement sets out stable elements of cooperation between the state authorities and the Apostolic See, in the hope of providing the Catholic community with good shepherds. In this context, the Holy See intends fully to play its own part,” Francis said.

Francis clarified that, while Beijing and the Vatican will cooperate on matters of church leadership, ultimate authority to name bishops falls to the pope.

“It is a dialogue. But the pope will name them, let that be clear,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane Tuesday night.

“It is not a question of appointing functionaries to deal with religious issues, but of finding authentic shepherds according to the heart of Jesus, men committed to working generously in the service of God’s people, especially the poor and the most vulnerable,” he added in his letter to the faithful.

Francis also asserted that while Chinese Catholics should cultivate a new practice of daily cooperation between laity, clergy and local authorities, such civil cooperation does not preclude Catholic faithful from criticizing injustice.

“At times, this may also require of them the effort to offer a word of criticism, not out of sterile opposition, but for the sake of building a society that is more just, humane and respectful of the dignity of each person,” he said.

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