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Chinese Bishops Attend Vatican Synod For First Time In History

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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  • Two bishops from mainland China will attend a Vatican synod for the first time as a boon to the Vatican granted by Beijing over their new deal.
  • Critics call the deal an abandonment of China’s underground church and a capitulation on the church’s part to the Chinese Communist Party, while Pope Francis lauds it as an opening to cooperation between the church and Beijing.
  • The Chinese church declared loyalty to Beijing, as opposed to Rome, hours after the deal signing, and Beijing declared that the deal would change nothing concerning its crackdown against churches and religion in general.

Two Chinese Catholic bishops will attend a Vatican synod in a historic first, following a Sino-Vatican deal that critics labeled a capitulation to China’s Communist Party.

The Vatican has invited Chinese bishops to synods in the past, but Monday marked the first time that Beijing granted permission for bishops to travel to and attend the synod. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said this was the result of improved relations between China and the Vatican resulting from their new deal. (RELATED: Pope Asks Chinese Catholics To Trust Him On Deal They Say Ignores The Underground Church)

“There will be two bishops from continental China. They were invited by the pope,” Baldisseri told a news conference, according to Reuters. “I think they are already on their way to Rome.”

“In the past the Holy See invited bishops from continental China but they were never able to attend,” he said.

The deal, in which Beijing will recognize the Vatican’s say in appointing bishops, came at a cost that critics like Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen said far outweighs the benefit.

“They’re giving the flock into the mouths of the wolves,” Zen told Reuters. “It’s an incredible betrayal.”

Zen even called for Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s resignation over the deal.

“I don’t think he has faith. He is just a good diplomat in very secular, mundane meaning,” Zen said of Parolin.

The Vatican lauded the deal for bringing all Catholics in China into full communion with Rome and, as Pope Francis said, for setting out “stable elements of cooperation between the state authorities and the Apostolic See” concerning the appointment of bishops.

Chinese religion scholars, however, predicted that the deal in its current form would only allow for Beijing to seize more control over the Catholic Church, even in the form of a veto on candidates for the bishopric, largely because the Vatican has negotiated with China from a position of weakness.

The Chinese church, mere hours after the signing of the deal, also publicly declared its allegiance to Beijing, as opposed to Rome, saying that it “persevere to walk a path suited to a socialist society, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”

As part of the deal, the Vatican agreed to recognize seven bishops previously appointed by China’s Communist government without papal approval and who the church had therefore excommunicated. The church also asked Bishops Peter Zhuang Jianjian and Joseph Guo Xijin of the underground church — who refused to bend the knee to China’s Communist Party and remained loyal to Rome — to step down to allow for Beijing-approved bishops to take their positions.

Zen decried those conditions, even when the Vatican readied to accept them in return for Beijing’s official acknowledgement of about 20 bishops who the Vatican publicly appointed and some 40 bishops who the Vatican appointed in the county’s underground church. Zen said at the time that the Vatican was “selling out the Catholic Church in China” through such a deal.

That version of the deal is no longer on the table, however, as the deal that Vatican and Chinese officials signed contains no mention of those bishops. Only Beijing enjoyed immediate benefits from the deal with the church’s acceptance of its bishops and the removal of two bishops Beijing reportedly saw as a threat.

Catholic faithful in the underground church said they feel the Vatican has abandoned them by signing this deal in the face of years of their loyalty to Rome at the risk of brutal persecution from Chinese authorities.

“They say that it forgets the underground Christians,” said Father Bernard Cevellera, head of Asia News.

As for Beijing, their statements indicated no change in its stance toward the underground church after signing the deal with the Vatican, saying the churches would continue to function according to loyalty to the Communist Party. China’s implantation of stringent regulations against churches both sanctioned and unsanctioned will therefore continue.

The deal also contained no mention of 12 Catholic clergy members who are believed to be held in detention by Chinese authorities.

“The Communist Party long been determined to force underground Chinese Catholics out of the catacombs so they can be brought under strict Party control,” China expert Steve Mosher told LifeSite News. “Why anyone in the Vatican, including Cardinal Parolin, would think it’s a good idea to lend the name of the Pope to their effort in this way is beyond me.”

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