In an interview with the Reuters news agency on July 2, 2022, Pope Francis expressed hope for a renewal of the pastoral agreement on the appointment of bishops, which will end next September.
This agreement was made between the Holy See and China in 2018 for two years. It was then renewed in 2020 for two more years. It is supposed to give the Pope the final say on the appointment of bishops in the country. But in fact, the content having remained secret, there is no certainty on this point.
On the other hand, one thing that remains certain is the regular attacks against this agreement by many authoritative voices, especially in Asia. One of the most virulent opponents of this convention is Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who was recently arrested by the power put in place in Hong Kong by Beijing and then released on bail.
According to Francis, the process of appointing bishops “goes slowly,” but he explains that it is the “‘Chinese way’ because the Chinese have this sense of time where no one can rush them.”
The Pope defends this agreement with the following reasoning: “When you face a blocked situation, you must find the possible way, and not the ideal way, to get out of it.” And he compares the criticisms to those aimed at Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, craftsman of the Ostpolitik led by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI in the 1960s and 1970s.
A very unfortunate comparison, when one remembers the consequences beyond the Iron Curtain, in particular the installation of the “peace priests,” true collaborators of the communist governments.
This soothing view of the Sino-Vatican agreement is increasingly challenged by the facts unfolding beyond the bamboo curtain. Thus Communist Party policy ends up interfering in all the cogs of the Chinese Church so as to control the clergy.
To give a recent example, on June 29, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Leshan (Sichuan Province) was used to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a date which coincided with the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
The Bishop, Msgr. Lei Shiyin and other priests and sisters attended the celebration. It should be noted that this was brought forward by two days, since the foundation actually took place on July 1, 1921. During the homily, the faithful were called to “listen to the word of the Party, feel the grace of the Party and follow the Party.”
A Chinese source comments: “It is no longer a question of listening to the Lord, of feeling His grace and following Him. This is the root of the disease of the Chinese Church today, it is difficult to get away from the influence of ideology. Politics has entered the Church.”
Msgr. Lei also has a sad history. After being illegitimately consecrated in 2011, he is rumored of having a mistress and children and then excommunicated. In 2018, Pope Francis lifted his excommunication and he regained his episcopal duties, with what result…
Finally, after the repression of religious activities, the Catholics’ capacity for movement and activity is being gradually and drastically reduced. On June 1 this year, the “Measures for the Financial Management of Religious Sites” came into effect, and since March, the “Administrative Measures for Religious Information Services on the Internet” has been in effect.