China/Vatican: The Last Phase of the Interim Agreement?

Source: FSSPX News

In an article entitled “Pope Francis sees China as great country, says cardinal,” the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin answered questions from the Chinese daily Global Times,—a subsidiary of the People's Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party.

Vatican News, the Vatican website, announced on May 13, 2019 that “Cardinal Parolin reviews the progress of the dialogue” by quoting brief excerpts of the interview published the day before in English in the Global Times. Three days after its publication, there was still no complete translation into Chinese of the long and important interview, the Italian Catholic agency AsiaNews pointed out, referring to the negative comments posted by Catholics who read the text published in English. These criticisms particularly emphasized the cardinal’s silence on the destruction of crosses, the persecutions and the constraints currently imposed on underground priests by the Patriotic Association in China. One of the posted criticisms reads: “In one of the answers, the cardinal mentions the difference between inculturation and sinicization and seems to suggest the possibility that they are ‘complementary.’” Here the comments are clear: “sinicization is only a beginning: then comes the elimination [of the Church in China].”


After having signed, on September 22, 2018, the Interim Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops in China [still kept secret], Cardinal Parolin tried to give an explanation in his interview, “There is confidence that a new phase of greater cooperation can now be opened for the good of the Chinese Catholic community and the harmony of the whole society. The channels of communication are working well. There are elements which demonstrate an increased trust between the two sides.”

He continued, “China and the Holy See are not discussing theories about their respective systems nor do they want to reopen questions which by now belong to history. Instead we are looking for practical solutions which concern the lives of real people who desire to practice their Faith peacefully and offer a positive contribution to their own country.”

“For Pope Francis—who is well aware of all that has happened even in the recent past—the main interest in the ongoing dialogue is on the pastoral level: he is making a great act of trust and respect for the Chinese people and their culture of millennia, with the well-founded hope of receiving an equally sincere and positive response. The truly important point is that the dialogue should be able to progressively build a wider consensus by bearing abundant fruits.”

“Inculturation is an essential condition for a sound proclamation of the Gospel which, in order to bear fruit, requires, on the one hand, safeguarding its authentic purity and integrity and, on the other, presenting it according to the particular experience of each people and culture… These two terms, ‘inculturation’ and ‘sinicization,’ refer to each other without confusion and without opposition: in some ways, they can be complementary and can open avenues for dialogue on the religious and cultural level. Finally, I would say that the principal actors in this commitment are Chinese Catholics, called to live reconciliation in order to be authentically Chinese and fully Catholic.”

The cardinal concludes, “The Holy Father asks [Chinese] Catholics in particular to undertake with courage the path of unity, reconciliation, and a renewed proclamation of the Gospel. He sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom… In the words of Pope Francis, we would say that only by being united can we overcome the globalization of indifference, working as creative artisans of peace and resolute promoters of fraternity.”


On June 25, Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, director of the AsiaNews agency, wrote that he was receiving “reports of a slow and inexorable suffocation of the Chinese Church, both official and underground. The driving force behind this suffocation is the term ‘independence’ to which official bishops and priests must bow and to which even the underground must adhere if they wish to exercise their ministry.”

Fr. Cervellera points out that this is happening precisely “while the agreement between China and the Vatican is applauded in Italy and China.” As evidenced by this series of declarations and demonstrations:

On May 14, 2019, Cardinal Parolin delivered a speech on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Confucius Institute at the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. In this speech titled “The unity of the human family from Pope Benedict XV to Pope Francis,” he rejoiced to see that “for the first time after so many decades, all the bishops in China are in communion with the Successor of Peter and many Catholics are moving towards reconciliation which helps to rebuild unity among bishops, priests and the faithful.”

On Wednesday, May 22, Pope Francis expressed a “special closeness and affection to all the Catholics in China,” Vatican News reported. At the general audience, the pope recalled that May 24 was the feast of Mary Help of Christians, venerated in China as Our Lady of Sheshan, and invited everyone to pray that Chinese Catholics “be witnesses of charity and of fraternity, always remaining united in the communion of the universal Church.”

On May 29, the Vatican site announced that “for the first time, 76 works containing secular art, Buddhist art, and Catholic art, out of the Vatican Museums, are on display in the Forbidden City of Beijing, China.” A small cultural event that is in line with the normalization of small steps in the diplomatic relations between the two states,” he said. 

The Global Times of June 19 announced the “first ever” participation of Vatican Museums in an exhibition in Beijing: a “first ever” conference at Peking University was held “on Pope Francis and his vision,” given by Fr. Benoit Vermander, SJ, before 40 people; and for the “first time” a conference has been organized at the Peking Academy of Social Sciences on the theme “Growing in friendship—A perspective of Sino-Vatican relations,” by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Director of the Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica.

All these soothing declarations and all these cultural manifestations must not prevent us from asking the only question that matters: how does Beijing intend to preserve the “independence” of the Church in China? Fr. Cervellera explains, “by rejecting the influence of ‘foreign powers,’ including the Holy See.” A document was sent to AsiaNews by correspondents from Fujian Province (southeastern China), entitled “Letter of commitment for those responsible for places of worship and for consecrated persons.” The text enumerates in ten points the list of obligations to which all priests and religious sisters, “consecrated persons” (in China the government does not allow male religious life), must submit by signing the letter. Otherwise, the priest cannot exercise his ministry. The Rules for Religious Affairs requires commitment to: follow Party policy, insist on sinicization, prohibit the entry of minor children into the church, not to organize formation courses for minors, not to contact foreign powers, do not welcome foreigners, accept no delegation from foreign communities or religious institutions, do not accept interviews, training or invitations to conferences abroad, do not disseminate ideologies which support extremism, do not fund extremist activities, in the absence of permits do not evangelize in public places, do not post posters and install loudspeakers for apostolic purposes, etc.

This new regulation has been implemented not only in Fujian, but also in the provinces of Henan, Hubei, and Zhejiang, Fr, Cervellera explains.


Among the underground bishops, Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, 56 years old and bishop of Mindong (Fujiang), had been forced to give up his position after the signing of the Interim Agreement, to the official bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, “so as to obey to the point of ‘sacrifice,’ which was asked of him by the Vatican” (see DICI No. 377, October 2018). Becoming an auxiliary bishop of Mindong, he had been obliged to promise obedience, in writing, to the official bishop and to the laws of the government, while refusing to commit himself to respect the principles of “the independence” of the Church imposed by the Patriotic Association (PA), which he considered to be irreconcilable with the Catholic Faith. The diocese of Mindong has more than 90,000 Catholics, of whom 80,000 are in the underground Church, served by 57 priests, 200 sisters, 300 consecrated laypersons, and hundreds of lay catechists (see DICI No. 383, April 2019).

However, Fr. Cervellera writes on June 18, 2019, the United Front is requiring all clerical priests of the Diocese of Mindong to join the Patriotic Association by claiming that Bishop Guo has signed his membership. “Hence the rebellion of Monsignor Guo, who even prefers not to be recognized as a bishop by the government, rather than seeing his priests forced into PA membership.” This is why the auxiliary bishop of Mindong, “in an attempt to protect freedom for himself and his priests,” continued the director of AsiaNews, wrote a letter “to Fuan's Office for Public Security, to the Fuan Religious Affairs Bureau and to Bishop Zhan Silu.”

In this letter Bishop Guo withdrew his request for recognition from the government and explains the reason: “The government has already decided to persecute priests who refuse to sign the request [for membership in the PA]. If I am unable to protect them, it is not worth my time to be recognized as an auxiliary bishop. I am willing to face persecution together with other priests.”  

Diocesan sources told AsiaNews that these new provisions in Fujian Province are the implementation of a “pilot project” for the implementation of the Agreement between China and the Vatican.