In an interview with the Reuters news agency on July 2, 2022 and published on July 4, Pope Francis says the Provisional Agreement with the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of bishops “is going well” and hopes to see it renewed next October.
“Diplomacy is the art of the possible and making what is possible becomes a reality,” he said, acknowledging that this agreement is not ideal.
The Provisional Agreement between China and the Holy See has been in force since October 22, 2018. Valid for two years, it was renewed for two additional years in October 2020.
The agreement, still kept secret, will expire in October 2022.
“The agreement is progressing well,” said the sovereign pontiff. He acknowledges that the process of appointing bishops “is going slowly,” but explains that it is the “Chinese way because the Chinese have that sense of time, that no one can rush them.”
In this interview, Francis supports the line taken by Vatican diplomacy, despite the legitimate challenges it arouses. He declares thus: “The one who is handling this agreement is Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who is the best diplomat in the Holy See, a man of high diplomatic standing. And he knows how to move, he is a man of dialogue, and he dialogues with the Chinese authorities. I believe that the commission he chairs has done everything to move forward and look for a way out. And they have found it.”
Francis also defends “the policy of taking small steps, the ‘martyrdom of patience’ described by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the architect of the Vatican’s policy of Ostpolitik in relations with Eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.”
“ ‘Many people said so many things against John XXIII, against Paul VI, against Casaroli,’ the Pope explained,’ but diplomacy is like that. Faced with a closed situation, one must seek the possible, not the ideal, path. Diplomacy is the art of the possible and making the possible become a reality. The Holy See has always had these great men. But this [diplomacy] with China is being carried out by Parolin, who is great in this area.”
“In the meantime, however, in Hong Kong,” writes Sandro Magister on July 14 on his blog Settimo Cielo, “there are ever more crushing measures of privation of freedom, 25 years after the city was returned to the motherland.”
The Italian Vaticanist specifies that the chief executive, John Lee, elected on May 8 by 99% of the members of the electoral committee controlled by Beijing, and declared Catholic, had not hesitated to harshly repress popular protests for freedom, even the most peaceful, when he was head of the security department in 2019.
On April 16, five eminent Catholics were convicted and thrown into prison. “They are the ‘confessors of our time,’ the prophets of our day,’ wrote the Italian missionary Fr. Gianni Criveller, who has gotten to know them personally.”
Then, on May 11, 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was also arrested. And Sandro Magister recalls: “The news of his arrest was followed by complete silence from Francis, who had already shown himself ruthless with Zen, by refusing to receive him when the cardinal went to Rome from Hong Kong in September 2020, knocking in vain for four days on the pope's door.”
On July 5, the Reuters agency reported the remarks made by Msgr. Javier Herrera-Corona, unofficial representative of the Vatican in Hong Kong, to the 50-odd Catholic missions of the city.
Before ending his six-year posting, he made a point of informing them that the freedoms they had enjoyed for decades were over, warning that closer integration with China in the years to come could lead to mainland-style restrictions similar to those put in place on religious groups.
“Change is coming, and you’d better be prepared,” he warned, urging them to protect their missions’ property, files and funds.
Similarly, Fr. Gianni Criveller, had mentioned on July 1 on his blog Mondo e Missione, “Hong Kong and the broken promises of 25 years ago.” He then quoted Msgr. Stephen Chow, Bishop of Hong Kong since May 17, 2021, as saying that the life of people and believers in Hong Kong “looks more and more like an existence between two fires.”
Fr. Criveller considers the Hong Kong affair “a story of betrayed promises and hopes.” And he goes on to comment: “The arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of the diocese and the ‘conscience of Hong Kong,’ painfully reminded us of this: an invisible line that we believed to be impassable has been crossed.”
“Christians do not lose hope: they know well that the opposition of power to the Gospel and its message of freedom is not an exception, but rather an outcome for which we must prepare courageously.”
Behind the Vatican’s attitude, which he describes as “clearly Sinophile,” Sandro Magister denounces “a lobby and an expert.” He specifies that the lobby is the Community of Sant'Egidio, and the expert is Professor Agostino Giovagnoli.”
“Giovagnoli has been for decades the grey eminence of the Community,” he writes. “He teaches contemporary history at the Catholic University of Milan and is the main commentator on issues between the Vatican and China – as well as on broader geopolitics – for the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference Avvenire.”
“Giovagnoli is a member of the scholarly committee of the Confucius Institute of the Catholic University of Milan, one of the numerous Confucius Institutes promoted by Beijing all over the world for the dissemination of Chinese language and culture,” explains Sandro Magister.
The Italian Vaticanist recalls that Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and hypothetical successor to Pope Francis, has been attached to the Community of Sant'Egidio from the outset. Some warn that if the Archbishop of Bologna were to be elected, it would implicitly be the election of Andrea Riccardi, founder and leader of the Community. – “And why not? With Giovagnoli as Secretary of State,” concludes Sandro Magister.