In September, reports that the Vatican and Beijing had reached a provisional agreement to legitimize communist-appointed bishops and allow the Chinese government to propose future church leaders roiled Christians across the globe, with many labelling it a blatant betrayal of Chinese Catholics.
Established on the heels of the communist revolution of the 1950s, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) has aimed to exercise state control over the Catholic Church in China and has persecuted Christians ever since. While bishops must apply to the Vatican for approval, the CCPA has repeatedly “self-ordained” bishops in defiance of Rome.
Beijing’s environment of persecution against Christians has forced the legitimate Chinese Catholic Church, independent from state influence, underground, splitting the church directly in two. Catholics who refuse to align themselves with the CCPA are subjected to punishment, or simply disappear.
In November of 2018 for example, four Chinese Catholic priests were arrested, and according to reports, are being “indoctrinated on the religious policy of the Chinese government” as a result of their refusal to join the CCPA.
Moreover, persecution against Chinese Christians is reserved for no singular denomination. In December 2018, 100 members of the Protestant Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested, and several members tortured. Later in the month, 60 more members were arrested, and the church’s pastor charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”
While Christians have always suffered persecution at the hands of tyrants across the globe, direct capitulation to a hostile regime by church leadership is surely an event for the history books. Pope Francis’ decision to legitimize Beijing’s heinous disregard for religious liberty is an affront to Christians across the globe, and more and more people are speaking out.
Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide wrote, “…there are significant concerns about the implications for freedom of religion or belief in China,” while Patrick Poon of Amnesty International stated, “Such an agreement will effectively set a very bad precedent for other religions (in China) … It will put Catholics under a lot of pressure.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) summarized concerns about the deal best when he tweeted, “How can Vatican justify this doctrinally? They are giving a government (an atheist one) influence in choosing Bishops which ‘are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line.’ How does secular (& atheist) interference in that decision not break that line?”
Now, the recent death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung of Hong Kong has placed fresh scrutiny on the Vatican’s “deal with the devil,” and will place the agreement directly in the public spotlight.
Should Beijing attempt to fill Ming-cheung’s vacancy with a state-controlled puppet, Pope Francis must keep the faith with Christians across the globe and veto China’s attempt to bring Christians to heel.
It is far from too late for the Vatican to stray from this destructive course, and to preserve its international reputation, Pope Francis must renege on any deals that would further criminalize free expression.