Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve.” 2 John 1:8

It cannot be true! For once even the cool and composed Global Catholic circles are stunned if not speechless.

Multiple reports suggest that an accord between Rome and Beijing is imminent. What does it entail? The Chinese regime will install Catholic bishops with or without Vatican approval.

1. pope with chinese in st peter

How did this happen? Pope Francis greets pilgrims fro China during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square (Photograph courtesy Paul Haring)

It is not my place to make judgments. We must leave it to the Lord Jesus Christ to oversee the running of the Church overall, which in my view, certainly includes the Catholic Church. All I would like to put together in this piece is the questions that this astonishing event unfurls in Christian and non-Christian quarters the world over:

  • Wall Street Journal quotes Chinese Cardinal Zen ruing the decision because it sees that the Vatican is ready to surrender important principles “in the hopes of achieving an agreement.” He adds Pope Francis has no real knowledge of communism and even during his youth in Argentina, the Pope saw Communists as the objects of persecution, rather than the persecutors.
  • It is a complex agreement. Under it, the Vatican would recognize the bishops installed by the Chinese regime. In return, Beijing would bow down to the right of the Holy See to appoint new bishops. Now, here is the catch. The Holy See would appoint the bishops from a list furnished by the government-backed Patriotic Catholic Association. The question: Is this the government’s way of controlling Episcopal appointments, nominating only candidates who function under governmental authority?
  • If the above is true, then what will henceforth be the status of the “underground” bishops and priests who have suffered much due to government harassment and arrest? These include Chinese bishops who have been loyal to Rome, and are currently operating without government approval. Are they right in feeling indignant at the agreement which they view as a lopsided win for Beijing and a betrayal of their fidelity? 
  • Are the Vatican negotiators right in considering this “the best option one can hope for at this time”? Is their perspective right when they say it is “a historical breakthrough from Rome’s point of view, since the Communist government would for the first time be recognizing the Pope’s jurisdiction as head of the Catholic Church in China”?
  • Has Pope Francis been subtly kowtowing Beijing by refraining from criticism of its human-rights record and declining to meet the Dalai Lama, whom China accuses of seeking Tibetan independence.
  • Who – and this includes Beijing – can deny that Christianity has spread markedly in China over recent years, especially in the form of evangelical Protestantism, and has proved disproportionately popular among middle-class and elite Chinese? Can anyone empathize with the despair of the Catholic Church’s evangelical efforts which have been hindered by the division between official and underground communities?
  • What few may know, but it is true: The Vatican and China have been having secret negotiations since the last 1980s, and under Pope John Paul II, adopted an informal arrangement for the mutual recognition of bishops. However, over the past decades, Chinese authorities have regularly violated that understanding by unilaterally ordaining bishops sans Rome’s approval. Currently, eight of the bishops in the state-run bishops’ conference remain unrecognized by Rome. Does Pope Francis now plan to give them the seal approval (which is what Beijing is currently demanding)?
  • Will this arbitrary move by Pope Francis divide the Catholic Church in China?
2. catholics leaving mass at Beijing

Can we really go in peace to love and serve the Lord? Catholics leaving Mass at Beijing’s Cathedral, South Church (Photograph courtesy Anthony E. Clark)

From the day he was declared the new Head of the Vatican, Pope Francis has been my hero. Now I know I need to pray for the Holy Father more than ever before. This unexpected new move of his has thrown the Church in China and the world into a quandary: some sneer, others express sadness, an equal number applaud the imminent move, while others plot and plan. At this point, all I would like to say is that until the ‘deal’ between China and the Vatican is made public, until the Holy Father speaks openly about it, it is a waste of time for us to conjecture.

The Chinese Benedictine monk, Brother Peter Zhou Bangjiu, OSB, was imprisoned by Communist officials in 1955, and he endured appalling torments while in Chinese prisons and labor camps, simply because he was a Catholic monk who refused to deny his loyalty to the Pope. He wrote a poem to commemorate his departure from China after his release:

Departure, my Motherland
The sky of my country has changed over these thirty-five winters,
Rancorous wind and rain have exposed a green pine.
At Yang Pass – a sad parting – I intone a tune that crushes my heart,
Oh Father of Heaven, when will you descend upon the Red Dragon?

In the new unexpected turn of events, is his plea being answered?

Or is he being grossly betrayed?

We will know on the coming November 10.

Until then, as followers of Christ, let us pray without ceasing.

by Ingrid Albuquerque


IngridIngrid Albuquerque-Solomon is an author, mainstream media writer, and theologian. She currently serves as Content Provider for Haggai Institute International, Consultant for Berean Bay Media House, facilitates weekly Bible studies for The Association For Theological Education through Extension (TAFTEE), and writes Christian devotionals tailored to meet the everyday needs of different Christian organizations.

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