Vatican Official Hails 'Positive' Results of China Deal Amid Report that Holy See Delegation is Heading to Beijing

Representatives of the Holy See and China signed the provisional agreement on Sept. 22, 2018.

Pilgrims from China at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on October 12, 2016.
Pilgrims from China at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on October 12, 2016. (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA)

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican official hailed the “positive” results of the Holy See’s provisional agreement with China Tuesday amid reports that a Holy See delegation is heading to Beijing to extend the deal.

In an article published on the front page of the Sept. 30 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Andrea Tornielli said that the initial two-year pact had led to new episcopal appointments approved by Rome, some of which were also officially recognized by the Chinese government. 

“Even though contact was blocked in recent months due to the pandemic, the results have been positive, although limited, and suggest going forward with the application of the agreement for another determined period of time,” the editorial director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication wrote in the article, which was posted on the Vatican News website Sept. 29.

A report published the same day by the Italian newspaper La Stampa said that a Holy See delegation would depart for Beijing “in the next few days” with the aim of renewing the deal.

Representatives of the Holy See and China signed the provisional agreement on Sept. 22, 2018. The text, which has never been made public, concerned the appointment of bishops -- a long-running source of disagreement between the Catholic Church and the Chinese Communist Party.

The deal went into effect a month after it was approved and will expire Oct. 22. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told journalists earlier this month that the Holy See intended to renew the agreement, which it adopted “ad experimentum,” or provisionally. 

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, told CNA earlier this month that the Church’s silence on human rights abuses in China as it sought to extend the deal would harm efforts to evangelize the country.

He said: “The resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization. Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”

Tornielli’s article appeared shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to arrive in Rome for talks with Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States.

In an exclusive interview with CNA Sept. 25, Pompeo said that he planned to discuss human rights violations in China, and urge Vatican officials to speak out about Chinese persecution of religious groups.

He observed that the plight of religious believers had worsened since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013.

“The Church has an enormous amount of moral authority and we want to encourage them to use that moral authority, to improve the conditions for believers, certainly Catholic believers, but believers of all faiths inside of China, and so that’s the conversation that we’ll have,” he said.

In his article, Tornielli emphasized that the agreement did not touch on diplomatic relations between the Holy See and China, which Beijing broke off in 1951. Nor did it concern “the juridical status of the Catholic Chinese Church, or the relations between the clergy and the country’s authorities.”

“The Provisional Agreement exclusively treats the process for the appointment of bishops: an essential question for the life of the Church and for the necessary communion between the pastors of the Chinese Catholic Church with the Bishop of Rome and with the bishops throughout the world,” he wrote. 

“The goal of the Provisional Agreement, therefore, has never been merely diplomatic, much less, political, but was always genuinely pastoral. Its objective is to permit the Catholic faithful to have bishops in full communion with the Successor of Peter who are at the same time recognized by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China.”

When CNA asked Cardinal Zen if he saw any prospect that Vatican negotiations with the current Communist government would lead to improvements for the local Church, he said simply “No.”

“Is there any choice between helping the government to destroy the Church or resisting the government to keep our Faith?” he asked.

Pope Francis: ‘The West Has Taken the Wrong Paths’

In the course of the in-flight press conference, the Pope also addressed the Russo-Ukrainian War and Ukraine’s right to defend itself, relations between the Holy See and China, and critiques that participation in the Kazakh interreligious congress risks indifferentism.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun departs the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome on Nov. 18, 2014.

The Arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen (May 21)

When Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 90-year-old bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, was arrested and released on bail two weeks ago it sent a clear signal of just how far China will go in trespassing on religious freedom. What’s next for Cardinal Zen and for Catholic and other religious believers in Hong Kong? Register Rome correspondent Edward Pentin brings us that story and more, including how European pro-lifers are hailing the expected Dobbs decision.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

FBI Investigation of Catholics, and Advent Reflections From a Former Muslim (Dec. 9)

A new report released this week details the extent of the FBI’s weaponization of law enforcement against traditional Catholics. Catholic News Agency staff writer Joe Bukuras brings us the latest about how far the FBI went in looking for possible domestic terrorists within traditional churches. Also, we hear the conversion story of Register blogger Zubair Simonson who wrote, ‘Advent Thoughts About Gaza and Israel, From a Muslim Who Became Catholic.’