Vatican rebukes cardinal over "selling out" to China accusations

Elias Hubbard
February 3, 2018

The Pope will lift the excommunications of the seven bishops and recognize them as the leaders of their dioceses, according to the person familiar with the situation.

The Vatican has not maintained diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951, two years after the founding of the People's Republic of China. "To me, this is disturbing, I don't think it sends the right message".

The news was first reported in January by the Vatican-linked AsiaNews website and since confirmed by Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of semi-autonomous Hong Kong, who is a staunch opponent of any rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing. He was subsequently rebuked by the Vatican for implying the Pope was not fully supportive of the negotiations.

On the other hand, Taiwan has democracy and freedom, with a vibrant Catholic community, she added.

The Pope's conciliatory approach stands out at a moment when China is tightening its grip on religious practice under the more assertive leadership of President Xi Jinping.

In 2015, the World Religion Database estimated 7.3 million in the government's Catholic church and 10.5 million outside of it.

Chinese Catholics, including pope-backed bishops, who have remain loyal to the Vatican often face harassment and imprisonment and are forced to work underground.

In his Facebook post, he warned that by uniting the two churches, the Vatican would be strengthening a "schismatic church" and that there was no mutual gain when negotiating with a "totalitarian regime".

In China, a priest at St. Joseph's Cathedral, the largest in the city of Tianjin and part of the state system, said believers would "of course" welcome the deal.

The Catholic Church may also feel under pressure from the rapid growth of Protestant Churches in China, experts said.

Francesco Sisci, a China-Vatican relations expert, explained that there were still priests who are not recognized by the Chinese Communist Party, even though some of the "underground" churches have been reconciled with government-appointed bishops.

But Chit Wai John Mok, a writer on Vatican affairs and PhD student in sociology at University of California, Irvine, called the forcing out of two Vatican-appointed bishops "outrageous" and said Catholics in Hong Kong were "mostly shocked and disappointed" by the news.

Previous attempts to restore ties have floundered over Beijing's insistence that the Vatican must give up its recognition of Taiwan and promise not to interfere in religious issues in China.

Five legislators from Taiwan's foreign affairs and interior committees are leaving on Saturday for an eight-day visit to the Vatican, Italy and Greece.

The Vatican said reports to the contrary were "surprising and regrettable" and fostered "confusion and controversy".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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