The decision by the Vatican to announce the renewal of its secret
agreement with Beijing on the Feast of St. John Paul II just over a week
ago was perhaps the biggest insult of all.
It was almost as if the
proponents of the dodgy deal wanted to repudiate the great pontiff who
had played such a central role in the fight against communism and made
such a significant contribution to the fall of the Soviet Union.
contrast to his legacy, the current Vatican seems intent on kowtowing to
and becoming a tool of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime in
The timing of the renewal could not have been worse. It coincided with the CCP’s 20th
Party Congress, which gave Xi Jinping an unprecedented third term and
sealed his cult-like grip on the country. And in a shocking scene, his
predecessor as General Secretary of the CCP and President of China, Hu
Jintao, was dragged out of the Congress in full view of the cameras and
under Xi’s impassive watchful gaze.
The Vatican’s deal was also
renewed exactly one week after the Chinese Consul-General in Manchester
was filmed, along with some of his colleagues from the consulate,
assaulting peaceful Hong Kong protesters on the street outside.
Bob Chan, was dragged into the consulate, where the Consul General,
Zheng Xiyuan, himself pulled his hair, while another thug poked his
fingers into Chan’s eyes and others beat him severely.
admitted his actions in a television interview, claiming it was his
“duty” to pull the protester’s hair in retribution for “insulting” Xi
Jinping. When I met Chan three days later he was still seriously bruised
and unable to sit down without severe pain.
And in the biggest betrayal of all, the Vatican has renewed this
agreement just as one of the Church’s most senior and most respected
cardinals, the 90-year-old Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong Joseph Zen, goes
on trial, and as prominent Hong Kong Catholic Jimmy Lai, who has
already spent two years in prison, faces multiple court cases and the
prospect of many more years behind bars.
Yet Pope Francis refused
to meet Cardinal Zen last time he visited Rome two years ago, the
Vatican’s reaction to his arrest earlier this year was, to put it
politely, limp and lackluster, and not a word has been said by the
Vatican about Lai’s plight.
If the details of the agreement were
transparent and the gains more obvious, perhaps some of the Vatican’s
compromises might be more understandable. But this deal, first agreed by
the Vatican and China four years ago, has now been renewed for the
second time with seemingly no scrutiny, review or transparency — and far
from improving conditions for the Church in China, it has resulted in
worsening repression and persecution.
The only detail we know
about the agreement itself is that it relates to the appointment of
Catholic bishops in China and gives the CCP a say in picking them. Yet
so far only six new bishops have been appointed, according to the
Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, leaving at least
40 vacancies to fill. Many underground bishops and priests remain in
prison or under house arrest.
A precondition — both for the
original agreement and for its renewal — ought to have been the release
of clergy in prison, but it does not appear that the Vatican made that
demand, or if it did it failed to secure it. Indeed, the Vatican
insisted that some underground bishops who had been courageously loyal
to Rome for decades stand down in favor of Beijing’s preferred
The only winners from this deal are Xi Jinping and the
CCP. Not only have they strengthened the repression of the Church in
China, but they have also extended their control into the heart of the
Vatican itself. Pope Francis is not usually a pontiff who shies away
from speaking about injustice.
Typically, every Sunday when he prays the
Angelus from his window above St. Peter’s Square in Rome, and on plenty
of other occasions too, he speaks about one issue of injustice,
persecution or conflict or another.
To his great credit, he has spoken
out several times against the repression in Myanmar as a whole and the
genocide of the Rohingyas in particular, as well as Yemen, Syria, and
the persecution of Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East.
one part of the world about which he has been conspicuously silent is
China. Whether it is the genocide of the Uyghurs, atrocities in Tibet,
the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms in violation of an international
treaty, the crackdown on civil society, lawyers, bloggers and
dissidents throughout China, the threats to Taiwan or the persecution of
Christians in China, Pope Francis has said almost nothing. It appears
that Beijing has bought the Pope’s silence.
Yet despite the
Vatican’s sell-out, it has received nothing in return. Pope Francis
insists on the pursuit of dialogue, naively thinking he can build a
relationship with Xi Jinping of the kind his 16th-century Jesuit
inspiration, Matteo Ricci, had with the Chinese imperial court. But Xi
rebuffed the pope’s invitation to meet when they were both in Kazakhstan
Over the past decade, Xi’s regime has intensified the
crackdown on Christians, leading to the worst persecution in China
since the Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed,
and thousands of crosses torn down.
In state-controlled official
churches, portraits of Xi and CCP propaganda banners are required to be
on display alongside — or even instead of — religious statues and
images. Surveillance cameras record every worshipper in attendance, and
under-18s are banned from places of worship. The Vatican’s deal with the
CCP has not changed the persecution, it has helped facilitate it.
fellow Catholics whom I talk to, I have yet to find one who
enthusiastically supports or defends the Vatican’s deal with China, and
none who can really explain it. It is baffling that the Vatican has
sold out to Beijing, and has made no attempt to listen to critics of its
The time has come for Catholics — clergy and laity — around
the world to cry out in very large numbers to Pope Francis on behalf of
the persecuted millions suffering at the hands of the CCP, and demand to
The Vatican should, even at this very late stage,
completely review its approach. It should start by lifting the veil on
the text of the agreement, and publishing it in full so that we can all
see what is in it.
It should then begin a dialogue, not with Beijing but
with Catholics, in China and around the world, as well as with
representatives of other Christians in China, the Uyghurs, Tibetans, the
pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and Taiwan (with whom the Holy See
is still one of the few states to maintain diplomatic relations).
the very least, if Pope Francis is to recover the moral authority of
the papacy on these issues, he must end his silence on the CCP’s
atrocities. Even if it is too late to change the deal for now, until it
is up for renewal again, it is never too late to speak out against evil
Doing a deal with the devil is bad enough, but as the old
saying goes, if you are going to dine with the devil, you should use a
very long spoon.
Being complicit with the devil’s schemes, spreading the
devil’s lies and staying silent in the face of the devil’s crimes is
too high a price for the Vatican to pay.