China: Beijing’s Eyes in the Vatican

December 28, 2022
Msgr. Camillus Johnpillai

On November 15, 2022, during a colloquium organized by the Dicastery for Evangelization, Vaticanist Sandro Magister questioned Msgr. Camillus Johnpillai, head of the Dicastery, on the Vatican's relations with China since the provisional secret agreement on the appointment of bishops, recently renewed for two years.

The monsignor’s answers are very instructive, mentioning first of all the major role of the Secretariat of State in the application of the secret agreement: “In terms of staffing and appointments in the dioceses in China, our dicastery, in collaboration with the Secretariat of State, has a meeting every week on how to move forward, because here we are in a political situation very different from that of other countries.”

“And the Secretariat of State is well informed of the situation, also with reference to the signing of that agreement that we made with the Chinese government. So every decision, above all staffing and appointments, is always made in collaboration with the section responsible for China within the Secretariat of State.”

Then we discover Beijing's control over the Holy See in the application of the agreement: “The Chinese government knows, follows everything we do, they are also following this press conference closely, nothing remains secret in the end. But in the political field these are the options they have. What are we to do? We cannot create another option that doesn’t exist.”

“One has to be realistic in order to deal with these governments, not only with China but also with other countries like Vietnam. Each country has its idiosyncrasies and characteristics, so before going ahead with an appointment, or creating a new diocese, we must always see if there is any objection on the part of the government.”

“Unfortunately we are very limited in negotiating all of this. The work is going forward, certainly not at a speed, but with progress we could call very, very limited.”

Finally, we learn of the diplomatic precautions with which the Roman supporters of this agreement surround themselves: “Regarding the issues of the Church in China, we have a charge d’affaires who is in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the gateway to greater China. However, here we do not use the expression “nunciature,” but that of “Study Mission Center.”

“The category of nunciature is politically very dangerous to use, if we used this phrase it goes against the spirit of the agreement. The “mission” is to monitor, follow all these territories closely.”

“Even people from Greater China can come to Hong Kong without difficulty, because politically Hong Kong is part of Greater China. So a Chinese citizen has complete freedom to leave mainland Greater China and arrive in Hong Kong.”

For the record, let us recall that this secret agreement is perseveringly denounced by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong. Msgr. Johnpillai's statements on how the agreement between communist China and the Vatican will work in practice can only strengthen his courageous opposition.