By Michael Sainsbury
The resignation of Chinese Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin is the last thing the Vatican needs as it races to stitch up an extension of its controversial deal with the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under growing international pressure.
While the initial September 2018 deal, still secret but concerning the appointment of bishops, slipped largely under the radar outside Catholic Church and China-watching circles, its extension has garnered far more attention.
That is because of the growing pushback against China’s human rights abuses and expansionist plans, largely due to the decision of the Donald Trump administration in the US to take a stand against Beijing.
Along with mounting evidence of China’s insidious interference in democratic countries’ politics and other institutions, this has emboldened other nations to take a stand against Beijing.
The Vatican’s decision to continue its plans to draw closer to China and the ruling CCP has put it very much on the wrong side of history.
The extent of the growing international opprobrium toward China for its horrific human rights abuses in Xinjiang, where it runs self-styled “re-education camps,” was laid bare last week when 39 countries made a statement to the United Nations demanding China cease its persecution of minorities, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet. It also demanded that China halt its authoritarian incursion into Hong Kong.
“There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association and expression as well as on Uyghur culture,” the statement said. “Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labor and forced birth control including sterilization.”
In Xinjiang, physical and sexual abuse, torture and industrial-grade religious persecution have been intimately documented by journalists, researchers and rights groups in recent years as the CCP stepped up its disgusting program of cultural genocide and inhumanity. All ignored by the Vatican.
Xinjiang is, of course, the large tip of the Chinese human rights abuse iceberg which extends to Tibet and other minorities and counts ever-increasing religious persecution, including against Catholics, among its terrors. All ignored by the Vatican.
The treatment of Bishop Guo, a lifelong loyal servant of the Catholic Church, has reflected the church of old — top-down management from Rome that appears to disregard the wishes of regular followers.
Pope Francis rails against the power of capitalism and its faithful government adherents and corporations. Yet as the chief executive of his own corporation and absolute monarch of his state, he makes deals such as the one with Beijing that is sidelining millions of the regular people he claims to protect. In the process he has given his moral authority a massive self-inflicted wound.
One of the key underlying justifications of the Vatican-China deal was that it would increase the Church’s opportunities for evangelism, yet it is now clear that the opposite is occurring.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has stated time and again that the deal is purely pastoral and not political. Yet the simple fact is that with the CCP controlling every aspect of life in China, everything in the country is by definition political. Rome has ceded what small control it has over Catholic China — the appointment of bishops to the underground church — to Beijing.
The Vatican’s problem — and it is as hidden at the moment due to the opaqueness of all things in mainland China — is the significant section of the so-called underground church that remains defiant to Rome’s wishes for it to put aside decades of persecution and bow down to the CCP-led Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Bishop Guo’s resignation only serves to underscore the deep divisions in the Chinese Church, one that cannot be repaired by the Vatican’s secret deal. In fact, as Bishop Guo’s move makes clear, the deal is exacerbating the divide between the state-run and underground churches.
And what of the faithful who have been worshiping under Bishop Guo?
As the Vatican-China deal’s biggest critic, Cardinal Joseph Zen said last week: “Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong, who leads the non-official community with many more members than that of his contender, obeyed the Vatican by giving up his position to the excommunicated one and becoming his auxiliary. But everyone has seen how they made his life impossible, so all he could do is to resign (news in these days).”
And what now of the other bishops, 20-30 in number, who have yet to submit to Beijing’s chilly embrace?
Cardinal Zen asked: “Is the Church in China finally united? Rapprochement between the two church communities? The normalization of church life, just because the pope gives his blessing to this miserable situation, to this victory of the enemy?”
The exquisite irony of Pope Francis’ position on China is that the Vatican is urging Chinese clerics to join what is clearly a unique sect of the Church under the ever-watchful eye of the CCP. It is a sect where bishops live in opulent houses with de-facto wives and children, all under the blessing of Rome.
A sect where minors cannot go to church, where fealty to the CCP must be given by its clerics over any other loyalty, including to Rome. A sect where portraits of Chinese leaders like Mao Zedong — one of history’s greatest mass murderers — and Xi Jinping, the creator of the 21st century’s first gulags, are hung in houses of worship.
“Is it good to have all bishops legitimate but in a church that is objectively schismatic? Is it progress? What kind of journey is it beginning?” Cardinal Zen asks.
There has been talk among ecclesial experts of the emergence of a “Chinese rite” as a way to salvage the situation as the Latin rite clearly no long applies to China’s official church.
This looks like a sensible way to go but there is one problem: it’s hard to see that the CCP would take that solution or, even if it did, allow the Latin rite to continue in the country. Either way Rome loses again.
And there is the rub. For all its grasping assurances that this deal leaves the pope in charge of the appointment of bishops, it does not. Beijing is now in charge of the Chinese Church and the Vatican has been reduced from a quiet opponent of the Chinese regime to its enabler.
And for what?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News