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Vatican Can Do Nothing But Accept China’s Terms, Religious Scholars Say

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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  • Religious scholars said the Vatican’s deal with China opens the door for China to eventually gain veto power on candidates for bishops.
  • Experts on the Chinese church also noted that China has not made any concessions of compromises and that the Vatican can do little beside accept China’s terms.
  • Pope Francis asked Chinese Catholics to trust in a positive outcome from the deal, but members of the underground church say they have been betrayed.

Religious scholars said the Vatican’s deal with China has actually weakened the church’s authority, as Beijing made no compromises and continues its crackdown on churches.

Religious scholars like Anthony Lam of Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Center and Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, said however, that the Vatican’s deal with China, announced Saturday, opened the door for China to seize greater control over bishops and their appointments, characterizing the deal as less of a negotiation and more of a capitulation on the part of the Vatican.

Pope Francis asserted to the faithful that the deal, in which the Vatican recognized seven bishops previously appointed by China’s communist government without papal approval, established dialogue between the church and Beijing, but did not cede authority to Beijing concerning the appointment of bishops. The deal also includes the forced resignation of two Vatican approved Chinese bishops. (RELATED: Pope Asks Chinese Catholics To Trust Him On Deal They Say Ignores The Underground Church)

The lack of any concession on China’s part, especially with regard to some 40 bishops of the underground church that Beijing refuses to recognize, indicated that China likely will not accept anything less than absolute control over the country’s church, according to Lam and Yang.

“I myself believe that in the process, the Holy See will agree to give the right of veto to the Beijing government,” Lam, an expert on the Chinese Church, told The Associated Press.

Lam also said that the Vatican was in no position to refuse China’s terms and had little negotiating power.

Yang highlighted the Vatican’s overt conciliatory stance in the deal, saying the Holy See made “the unusual compromises in order to reach this agreement, while China has given not an inch, almost nothing, up to this moment.”

Militant atheists took to online forums following the deal’s announcement and compared the Vatican’s concessions to Japan’s surrender in WWII, which the communist party claims to have accomplished, while members of China’s underground Catholic church called the deal a betrayal of their decades of loyalty to Rome despite suffering severe persecutions.

Pope Francis acknowledged the reaction of underground Catholics, saying that “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.”

The pontiff nevertheless urged the faithful in China to trust that the deal was based on the church’s accurate discernment of the will of God, and that it would lead to a positive outcome given the fact that all Catholics in China are now considered to be in full communion with Rome, whether they attend a state-run church or an underground congregation. Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, head of AsiaNews, said however that the Communist Party may still attempt to destroy the deal, given their reticence to lose any power over the church in China.

Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen also criticized the deal directly after its announcement and has previously criticized the Vatican’s negotiations with China on the grounds that it betrays the Catholics in China who remained loyal to the pope and refused to bend the knee to the communist party. He also asserted that the communist party will use the deal to compel obedience from Catholics in China.

“What is the message this communique conveys to the faithful in China? ‘Trust us! Accept the agreement!,'” Zen wrote. Zen said the message was simply the Chinese government’s way of saying, “Obey us! We are in agreement with your pope!”

China’s government has also demanded that the Vatican cut off all ties with Taiwan and issued a statement Saturday after the announcement of the deal, saying that little would change concerning the church’s operation in China, as churches would function according to “independence, self-government and self-regulation” as well as loyalty to the Communist Party. The underlying message of Beijing’s statement was also that the implementation of stringent regulations on and crackdowns against churches would continue.

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