Christian human rights groups and some Catholic bishops are voicing their concerns with the Vatican’s recent decision to allow the Chinese government to select bishop candidates at a time when the communist regime is cracking down on religious freedom. After the Vatican announced that a provisional agreement was reached with the Chinese government in Beijing to end seven decades of conflict over who should appoint Catholic bishops in the communist nation, several Christians, Catholics and other rights activists have argued that the Vatican has seemingly legitimized China at a time when it has a long record of oppression against religious groups.
While certain details of the deal remain unknown, reports of the agreement indicate that Chinese officials will submit a candidate for bishop to the Vatican and the pope will have final say over the matter. The agreement comes at a time in which the secular Chinese government has taken extreme measures to limit the religious freedom of Christians and other religious groups in the nation, whether it’s through demolishing hundreds of churches, urging Christians to sign papers to denounce their faith or even its campaign to tear down crosses and burn Bibles.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a United Nations-accredited persecution watchdog NGO, is among the human rights groups that have signalled its concerns about the deal. “CSW is deeply concerned about the timing of this provisional agreement between the Chinese government and the Vatican,” CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said in a statement. “While we understand some of the motivations behind the Vatican’s effort toward an agreement, there are significant concerns about the implications for freedom of religion or belief in China.”
Rogers asserted that if the agreement is to have “real value,” the agreement itself must have freedom of religion or belief as one of its central components. “We reiterate our call on the Chinese authorities to release all Catholics in China held in any form of detention, and all others detained in connection with their peaceful religious activities,” Rogers concluded. CSW warns that since China’s passing of the Regulations on Religious Affairs in February, authorities have demolished at least 20 churches and removed or destroyed at least 100 crosses. Additionally, there have been hundreds of arrests just in the Henan province alone.
“While we understand the eagerness of the Vatican in searching for more legitimacy in the eye of the Chinese Communist Party, this reported deal is nothing but a betrayal of both the millions of suffering persecuted Christians in China and the global Catholic Church,” China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement. “This could be a repeat of the 1940s Hitler’s Germany, when the German state church consented to the persecution and slaughtered millions of Jews. Ironically, how can the Vatican respond with a good clear conscience for this appeasement deal while the CCP just launched a secret war vowing the wipe out of underground Catholics and Protestants?”
The National Catholic Reporter, estimates that underground Catholics make up to 50% of China’s Catholic population. Other Chinese Catholics are affiliated with the state-recognized Catholic Patriotic Association. “They’re giving the flock over to the wolves. It’s an incredible betrayal,” Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, an 86-year-old retired bishop said. Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of the Vatican journal Asia News, said there is mixed reaction among Chinese Catholics. “On one hand a little bit of joy, because there is a provisional agreement, but also much sadness because problems remain, including that many bishops have disappeared at the hands of the police.”
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