During that meeting, the two representatives signed a Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops.
The above-mentioned Provisional Agreement, which is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application. It concerns the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level.
The deal, in short, gives the Beijing government the right to approve the appointment of bishops. It also regularizes, canonically, bishops in the state-backed “patriotic” church. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, released a videotaped statement about the deal. Excerpt:
The objective of the Holy See is a pastoral one: the Holy See intends just to create the condition, or help to create the condition, of a greater freedom, autonomy and organization, in order that the Catholic Church can dedicate itself to the mission of announcing the Gospel and also to contribute to the well-being and to the spiritual and material prosperity and harmony of the country, of every person and of the world as a whole.
And today, for the first time all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, with the Successor of Peter. And Pope Francis, like his immediate Predecessors, looks with particular care to the Chinese People. What is required now is unity, is trust and a new impetus; to have good Pastors, recognized by the Successor of Peter – by the Pope – and by the legitimate civil Authorities. And we believe – we hope, we hope – that the Agreement will be an instrument for these objectives, for these aims, with the cooperation of all.
This is a very big deal, the fruit of four decades of negotiations across three papacies. Not everyone is happy with it:
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the most senior Catholic cleric on Chinese soil, said he believed the two sides were making a “secret deal”, although he acknowledged he had no connection with the Vatican and was “completely in the dark”.
“They’re giving the flock into the mouths of the wolves.
It’s an incredible betrayal,” he said.
At a time when the Vatican is also under pressure for purportedly covering up a sex abuse scandal in the United States, with one archbishop even calling for the Pope to resign , Zen suggested this China deal would further add to the Church’s vulnerability.
“The consequences will be tragic and long lasting, not only for the church in China but for the whole church because it damages the credibility. Maybe that’s why they might keep the agreement secret.”
China’s roughly 12 million Catholics are split between an underground Church that swears loyalty to the Vatican, and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
The potential deal has divided communities of Catholics across China, some of whom fear greater suppression should the Vatican cede greater control to Beijing, but others want to see rapprochement.
Zen said he believed only half the underground church in China would accept a deal and was concerned how the remainder might react.
“I’m afraid they may do something irrational, they may make rebellion,” said 86-year-old Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong and the most outspoken critic of the Pope’s China strategy.
Pope Francis has rejected criticism that the Holy See may be selling out Catholics to Beijing’s communist government.
Zen said he believed any deal with atheist China would deal a significant blow to Pope Francis’ credibility.
“It’s a complete surrender. It’s a betrayal (of our faith).
I had a conversation about this deal last week in Rome, when it was still pending, with someone knowledgeable about the process. He was not sure if he supported it or not, but said that Rome’s hope is to be able to provide valid sacraments for Chinese Catholics, in hope of outlasting communist repression.
Non-Catholics should be aware that in Catholic (and Orthodox) theology, the validity of the sacraments does not depend on the moral qualities of the priest or bishop administering them. This was an issue settled by the Church in the fifth century, with the Donatist controversy. What matters is the validity of the priest’s ordination. This is why in the Soviet Union, even though most or even all of the Orthodox bishops were KGB agents, the sacraments remained valid, and the life of the Church continued, though obviously in captivity.
This is more or less what Rome hopes to accomplish with its new agreement with the communists. Rome’s concession to Beijing of the right to approve bishops is nothing new in the Church’s history. The Church has often conceded to the state power over the choice of bishops. It is a tragedy, though, because the Catholic Church has fought hard over the centuries for the right to administer its own affairs. This is a setback, for sure. Nevertheless, Rome’s gamble is that by extending a lifeline to the persecuted Church in China, it will be able to build a community of Catholic Christians able to endure whatever comes, and to exist on a more stable, permanent basis.
This is not an unreasonable stance to take. I think it’s morally wrong, to be sure, but it is not crazy. Rome is taking the long view. It knows that China will be one of the most important nations in the world for the foreseeable future, and it is trying to assure for itself a place in that future.
I think it’s wrong because — well, because of what Cardinal Zen said. How can it be anything other than a betrayal of the underground Church? Last summer, while traveling I met a Chinese Protestant who told me in conversation that he was thinking of converting to Catholicism. I asked him how a Rome agreement with Beijing that gives the communists greater control over the Church would affect his decision. His face grew severe, and he said under no circumstances would he have anything to do with a collaborationist Catholic Church.
Anecdotes are not data, but I just want to share that. I can’t imagine how the men and women of the underground Catholic Church in China must feel this morning. What if they resist? Well, on what basis would they resist? To this point, the focus of their resistance has been loyalty to the Holy See. As of today, loyalty to the Holy See means submission to Beijing.
As an Orthodox Christian, I’m thinking this morning of the example of ROCOR — the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. ROCOR was established in the early 1920s by Russian Orthodox bishops driven into exile by the Bolshevik Revolution, and who rejected the Moscow Patriarchate’s subservience to the communist government. In 2007, ROCOR formally reunited with Moscow, but for nearly a century, ROCOR offered Russian Orthodoxy free from communism’s malign control. Under Orthodox ecclesiology, ROCOR’s orders were valid, and therefore so were its sacraments.
Is a ROCOR-like church entity possible for dissenting Chinese Catholics? I don’t see how, given Catholic ecclesiology. Being in communion with the See of Peter is what makes one Catholic, right? The Society of St. Pius X would disagree, but note well that it broke with Rome over matters of doctrine. As serious as this Rome-Beijing concordat is, it’s not at the level of doctrine.
Nevertheless, I think this event increases — to what degree I don’t know — the possibility of a wider schism within the Catholic Church. Hear me out. There will be some Catholics outside of China who will side with Cardinal Zen, and who see this accord with Beijing as a terrible betrayal. These are likely to be the same Catholics who see Francis’s program of reform as a series of betrayals of Catholic tradition and Catholic truth on matters like the meaning of marriage. Some observers, including Francis supporters on the Catholic left, see the Pope’s upcoming Youth Synod as a vehicle for Francis to liberalize Catholic teaching on homosexuality. The Pope has given every indication, by his appointments, especially in this process, that he wants to reach a concordat with the Sexual Revolution.
Meanwhile, he continues to behave bizarrely on the subject of the sexual abuse scandal. Francis shows no awareness — zero, none, nada, nichts — of the gravity of the scandal. He has barricaded himself behind a fortress wall of self-pity, guarded by a phalanx of Vatican yes-men who tell him that this is all a plot by his enemies, and is confined to the United States. Yesterday, Michigan became the eighth US state, post-Pennsylvania, announced an investigation of Catholic dioceses and their handling of sex abuse over the decades.
As a Catholic priest friend pointed out to me last night, most (though not all!) of what these investigations will turn up will be old cases; the 2002 Dallas Charter reforms really have had a meaningful effect in cleaning up the abuse problem. The thing is, though, the information will be vile, and difficult for lay Catholics to absorb. For whatever reason or reasons, they did not face it fully in the first epic round of scandals, post-2002. Now they’re getting it — and they’re going to keep getting it in years to come.
Plus, Francis is in militant denial about the problems that come from networks of homosexuals in the priesthood. St. Jerome once wrote, of the great theological crisis of his day, “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.” A Catholic academic friend said to me recently that this should be updated to: “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself gay.” He’s talking about the world of the Church, of course — specifically, the homosexualization of the clergy. Consider not only the denial that Francis and his top advisers remain in over this reality, even as he appoints pro-LGBT bishops, but think also about how senior gay figures in the Church are driving changes to the Church’s magisterial teaching in a pro-gay way. Again, watch what happens with the Youth Synod.
Today the moral coin is flipped: It is the antagonists of tradition-leaning Catholics who are trying to look the other way and carry on against overwhelming evidence that there’s nothing to see here.
They’ve also put new slurs into circulation. Some of the people uncovering the truth have been disparaged as haters, for example, including by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, who is presumed by many to speak for the pope. Haters, like homophobe, is an epithet imported from the antinomian secular political culture. Its suggestion that some people are beyond redemption is profoundly un-Christian. It should never be used by anyone in religious authority.
Another slur is even worse than haters. Many agonized Catholics desiring only to know whether allegations are true are now accused of participating in religious treason—of planning a “putsch” within the church, as Michael Sean Winters has put it in the National Catholic Reporter. Or consider some characterizations of the testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States and author of a historically unprecedented and detailed 11-page letter released last month, accusing the pope and others of covering up abuse. Theologian Massimo Faggioli has called the work a “coup operation.” Fr. James Martin has tweeted similarly of a “coordinated attack” intended to “delegitimize” the pope.
This list could go on and on. Such martial language is designed to marginalize and malign anyone interested in the veracity of Viganò’s claims. It also sends the terrible signal that some churchmen and theologians underestimate the sufferings caused by unchecked abusers hiding behind Roman collars. The increasingly hysterical insistence that all will be well if only everyone leaves the pope alone underestimates the intelligence of the laity. Anyone who has read Viganò’s letter knows that the testimonial isn’t some anonymous comment tossed into cyberspace but a series of intricate assertions about who knew what and when—all of which can be verified or not in the long run. That bishops and others in authority have testified to the credibility of its author makes the document even harder to discredit, let alone ignore.
Partisan attempts to deflect attention from both the Viganò report and the scandals are jeopardizing the integrity of the church. In the absence of answers to the charges of coverup, who could blame mothers and fathers newly fearful for their children for withdrawing from the pews? So far as the laity is concerned, and contra what curia-firsters seem to understand, there is nothing Rome needs to do more than address these scandals.
But in this grave moment for the church, the laity knows more than it did 16 years ago. Back then I wrote, “If humility is now required of Catholics, so too is backbone. If it takes shutting down certain seminaries to protect boys of the present and future, close them now. If vocations to the priesthood should be so far reduced by stringent screening for abuse victims that American Catholics have to travel 50 miles to Mass, let them drive.” Today, a laity forged in this latest round of scandal knows all too well that there are worse things for the church than a priest shortage. And thanks again to the Internet, the same laity is scrutinizing the hierarchy as never before.
Good things will come of the evil confronted today. Judging by the signs of newfound courage and questioning, they already are. The ultimate legacy of 2018, whether we live to see it in this world or not, will be a holier and more transparent church.
Anyway, the anonymous priest I mentioned above e-mailed to say:
I think that the net effect of this continual release of historical abuse and cover up is going to have a deleterious effect on the Church. How could it not? Ultimately it will mean people walking away out of disgust and/or shame. And who could blame them? Yes, the Church has the truth. Fine. But no one cares about the truth if you don’t have love. No one cares about following what the bishops teach if you prove to have not protected children. All the truth in the world doesn’t matter if you protect predators.
Now, bad church government — protecting predators, making deals with communist persecutors of the Church — does not negate doctrinal truths. But as the priest said, all the truth in the world doesn’t matter if by your actions, you show that those truths do not matter. Trust me on this: I’ve lived it. You can lose your faith this way. It happened to me. I emphatically urge Catholic readers to dive deep into daily practices — prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, and more — that root your faith deep in your heart. You will be facing in years to come revelations that will shake you to the core. And you will have to deal with the miserable fact that the Pope and all of the Pope’s men are not on your side.
My own rage at this injustice annihilated within me the capacity to believe in Christ as a Roman Catholic. Don’t misunderstand: I am grateful that God brought me into Orthodox Christianity. The lessons I learned from losing my Catholic faith have made me a different kind of Orthodox Christian than I would have been otherwise. It’s not my place to get into Catholic vs. Orthodox here, nor do I want to (so keep your comments on this matter to yourselves, because I’m not going to allow them on the thread). My advice to you Catholics, though, is not to allow yourself to think that your faith is strong enough to withstand any revelations about the institutional Church. It is very clear that this crisis for Catholics is going to get much worse before it gets better.
The Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, in a new column, writes in part (this has been translated from Italian):
It has been four weeks since the publication of the Viganò testimony. And not one denial of his statements has been recorded. A timid attempt made on the Kim Davis case saw a devastating response from the former nuncio – which was substantiated by a document. Meanwhile, a letter emerged from the then-Deputy to the Secretariat of State Sandri, which confirmed what was declared by Viganò. Not one of the people involved — not one — have said: it is not true. Journalists covering this story, with rare exceptions, have spent their time in the work of personal denigration of Viganò and those who believe in his testimony, and stopped there. And this also reinforces the idea that it Vigano’s testimony is reliable. We imagine that if some journalist of the magic circle would have been able to, they would have played one or two cards by now to denounce the former nuncio. We must think, then, that the cards are actually in Viganò’s hands. And that they are winning cards. We are living in really terrible times, for those who want to try to still have faith in this Church.
Viganò is telling the truth. There are many more truths that will emerge. All that is hidden will be revealed. Count on it. The Chinese underground church are not the only Catholics who will experience a sense of betrayal like a knife in the heart.
We must become fire, and the fire of purification allows that to happen, for it burns away our sinfulness. As the book of Sirach says: “My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, remain in justice and in fear, and prepare yourself for temptation… Gold and silver are tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation” (Sirach 2:1, 5).
We are all sinners, and as Isaiah says, men of unclean lips. In his great vocation experience in the temple, described in Isaiah 6, God purifies his lips and his life with sacred fire, and makes him ready to be sent. “Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6: 6-8)
To concentrate our minds, and to keep everyone on the straight path, it is good to remember the fire and brimstone that obliterated Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), and the Lake of Fire in the Apocalypse, which is the second death, the death of mortal sin, and which is the destiny of those who are unfaithful to their call (Apoc 20: 10-14). It is a good practice to pray, not only in the Rosary, but all the time, the prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.” Mercy is founded on a recognition of the reality of justice, of right and wrong, of the fact of sin, and of repentance.
Our actions have consequences, as is evident in so many parables of the Gospel, such as that of the rich man and Lazarus. We sometimes forget that Jesus begins his ministry as John the Baptist did, with the words: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near at hand.” And at the end he speaks of the separation of the sheep and the goats. This is sharp, and clear, and calls for a decision. We should listen to the prophet Malachi, who warns the people about the coming day of judgment: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire…” (Malachi 3:2) Paul helps us to live rightly in the present moment when he speaks of the time to come when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Thess 1:7-8) . Any one of us who is tempted to lapse into complacent self – indulgence will be shaken by that vision of the fire of judgment, which is the ultimate sign of accountability.
Disastrously, a toxic sentimentality, in which both the call to repentance and the vision of judgment are obscured, has entered into the Church, and never more so than in the few decades following Vatican II, from the seventies to the mid-nineties. There was a blurring of the clear lines of morality, and the creation of a distorted and highly subjective concept of conscience. It is no coincidence at all that this was the very period, we now clearly realize, in which most of the devastating incidents of priestly and episcopal abuse that are now in the news took place. Designing policies and other things to deal with this abuse is surely necessary, and largely has already been done. But that is radically insufficient. We surely do not need a policy to stop us from engaging in self-indulgent evil that leads to the Lake of Fire. All Christians, but especially bishops and priests, need to listen to and act on these simple words of Jesus: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near at hand.