A Vatican official admitted this week that results of a two-year provisional agreement with Beijing on efforts to “normalize” the life of the Catholic Church in China are “not particularly exciting.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said on Sept. 14, that the Holy See’s intention “is that [the deal with China] be prolonged.”
Part of the interim deal, which was signed in China on Sept. 22, 2018, is on the appointment of bishops in the communist state. As part of the deal, Pope Francis officially recognized eight bishops (one of whom died earlier in 2017) named by the Chinese state that did not have papal approval.
The deal’s details have not been made public and critics have condemned it as a sell-out to the communist government.
Cardinal Parolin said at an event in Rome that the renewal of the agreement is part of efforts to “normalize” the relationship with China.
“With China, our current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the pope,” he said reported Catholic News Agency.
“Our perspective is on this ecclesiastical theme,” he added, noting that this goal should also take place “against a backdrop of peaceful coexistence, the search for peace and overcoming tensions.”
However Cardinal Parolin reportedly said the results of the two-year secret deal were “not particularly exciting.”
On the same day as the cardinal’s comments a Vatican source told Reuters that Pope Francis has now signed off on a two-year extension of the deal.
If the Chinese side agrees — seen as virtually a given — the deal will be extended without any changes, the source said.
Some Catholics in Asia had feared China would pressure the Vatican to include Hong Kong, following the imposition of a new national security law that significantly expanded Beijing’s reach into the city, but the source said it would not.
“There are no changes,” the source said of the accord. Church officials involved with the deal proposed that it be renewed and the pope gave the green light, he said.
Last week in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian indicated that China was also eager to renew, saying “the two sides will continue to maintain close communication and consultation and improve bilateral relations.”
Catholics in China are emerging from more than half a century of division that saw them split between a state-backed “official” Church and a “non-official” underground Church that remained loyal to Rome.
Both sides now recognize the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
“It’s not easy dealing with a communist, atheist regime that sees religion as interference, but what we have is better than no accord at all,” the source said.
In spite of the agreement, Chinese authorities have continued to remove crosses and demolish church buildings in different regions in China in the past two years.
In April, authorities removed crosses from two church buildings in the Diocese of Anhui. Crosses were also reported removed and a church building demolished in Hebei province’s Handan Diocese.
Hundreds of crosses across China have been removed since October 2018 in dioceses in the provinces of Zhejiang, Henan, Hebei, and Guizhou.
Last year, a church in Hebei province was demolished over accusations of illegal occupation of cultivated land.
So-called “underground Catholics” and members of the clergy also reported continued harassment and detention.
Beijing has been following a policy of “Sinicisation” of religion, trying to root out foreign influences and enforce obedience to the Communist Party, which has ruled China since winning a civil war in 1949.
The controversial deal has divided church leaders inside and outside of China.
Two of the most vocal critics of the deal are Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, and Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon.
Cardinal Zen accused Cardinal Parolin as the “one who has in his hands the Chinese dossier.”
“He clearly believes that such a position is necessary to open a new way for the evangelization of the immense Chinese nation. I have strong doubts,” said Cardinal Zen in an earlier statement.
Doubts over the agreement were also raised because of the Vatican’s silence on the issue of Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region.