By Andrea Gagliarducci
Speaking at a conference on Vatican diplomacy, the Holy See’s Secretary of State stressed that it is now important “to make the China deal for the appointment of bishops work in practice.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s remarks were given during the opening lecture of a 2-day conference on the Holy See’s diplomatic agreements, held Feb. 28 – March 1 at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the “Ecole Français in Rome.”
In his lecture, Parolin provided a general overview of the Holy See’s agreements with states, before discussing a 2018 provisional agreement reached between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China, concerning especially the appointment of bishops in China.
Signed Sept. 22, 2018, the terms of the agreement are confidential. But as an effect of the agreement, the Holy See recognized seven illicitly consecrated Chinese bishops and entrusted them with the leadership of Chinese dioceses.
At the moment all of China’s bishops have the twofold recognition of the government and the Holy See. Since the deal, no new bishops have yet been appointed to China.
Parolin described the China deal as “a sui generis case, since it was stipulated between two parties that still do not reciprocally recognize each other.”
He said that it is now important to “put into effect the agreement.”
The cardinal also said that the China deal came “at the end of a long path. In the end, we succeeded, and we hope that the deal will bear fruits for the good of the Church and of the country.”
Parolin said that Catholic Church “does not ask states to act as defenders of faith, but rather to ensure the freedom to be able to accomplish the mission.”
Vatican diplomatic agreements have two goals: that of safeguarding religious freedom, and that of preserving the Church’s freedom and at the same time helping the Catholic Church to “give her contribution to the spiritual and material development of the country, and foster peace peace.”
Religious freedom, Parolin said, is a key principle in agreements with States where Catholic are a minority, or in countries that have not a Christian tradition. The Vatican Secretary of State made the examples of the agreements with Tunisia (1964), Morocco (1983-1984), Israel (1993), Kazakhstan (1998), Palestine Liberation Organization (2000), Azerbaijan (2011), Chad (2013) and Palestine (2015).
Parolin also noted that “ negotiation for agreements with countries of Orthodox tradition did not go through until now,” and that there are no agreements with Anglo-Saxon countries (like UK and US), mostly “because of a different cultural understanding, rather than because of anti-Church sentiments.”
He added that the Holy See does not have a fixed model for diplomatic agreements, and briefly explained the procedure for reaching them: once the Holy See knows that a state is willing to negotiate an agreement, it authorizes a delegation chaired by the local nuncio and composed of some local bishops and canon law experts.
Then, the delegation identifies the main topics of interest for the agreement, and drafts a text, which is overseen and approved by the Secretariat of State. Legal issues are the first to be discussed, as they include the Church’s freedom and the practice of the worship.
Once everything is settled, the agreement is signed and ratified.
Parolin also noted that bishops’ conferences, with the Holy See’s authorization, can also make agreements with states, though these are mostly private agreements and not official internationally recognized legal agreements.
The Vatican Secretary of State added that agreements can also be questioned, and recalled that Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, a long-term diplomat who was Vatican Secretary of State from 1979 to 1990, used to say that agreements are not “a modus vivendi” but rather a “modus non moriendi” (not a way of living, but a way of not dying).
Parolin said that diplomatic agreements are part of the Holy See’s efforts to establish better relations with countries and to regulate the life of the Church, trying to avoid that civil society jumped into Church’s issues.
The Vatican Secretary of State also made mention of so-called “gentlemen’s agreements,” that is ‘“informal agreements between two parties grounded in honour, good faith and respect for one’s word.”
He mentioned the “gentlemen’s agreement” between the Holy See and Vietnam, where “appointment of bishops take place according to a procedure orally agreed with the government.”
The details of that oral agreement have never been disclosed.
CNA sources say that the Holy See – Vietnam agreement for the appointment of bishops works this way: there is a round of consultation with bishops and clergy, the nuncio then presents a set of three possible candidates to the pope; the pope makes his decision, and after that the decision is communicated to the Vietnamese government, which must give its approval.
Sometimes, Vietnam has been described as a possible model for the appointment of bishops with China. However, it seems that this will not be the model, because the Chinese government wants to keep more control over the appointment of bishops than that model allows for.