Christians around the world were gobsmacked on Thursday when the Vatican announced that it had renewed its power-sharing deal with China for another two years.
The deal itself was bad enough. According to its terms, the Holy See would regularize pseudo-bishops appointed by the Chinese Communist Party and its front-group, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. In return, the Chinese government would stop persecuting the so-called Underground Church: bishops, priests, and laymen who refused to cooperate with Communist authorities. Going forward, the Vatican would consult the government in Beijing before appointing new bishops.
For decades, members of the Underground Church have been imprisoned, tortured, reeducated, and murdered for refusing to submit to the “Patriotic” bishops. The Vatican never wavered in its support for those loyal and faithful Catholics. It lobbied the world’s governments to pressure China into guaranteeing religious freedom for minorities—not only Catholics, but Protestants and Muslims as well. They rightly understood that the Church’s liberty must be absolute. Any government’s attempt to supplant the clergy with its own yes-men is a basic violation, not only of human rights, but of God’s.
But, apparently, the Vatican does negotiate with terrorists. And so, in 2018, the Holy See ratified this agreement with the Chicoms.
Again, the idea that China’s politburo would have any say in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church is appalling. What’s truly baffling is the fact that Rome renewed the concordat despite the fact that Beijing hasn’t even tried to uphold its side of the bargain. Last year, government officials ordered Catholic churches to replace religious imagery with party propaganda. Crucifixes were replaced with massive portraits of Xi Jinping. Pictures of the Virgin Mary were swapped out for ones of Mao Zedong. The walls were plastered with Communist slogans: “Follow the Party, Obey the Party, and Be Grateful to the Party.”
Around the same time, Communist officials coerced an “Underground” bishop, Peter Jin Lugang, into joining the Patriotic Catholic Association. Father Sergio Ticozzi, a missionary who was close to Bishop Jin, wrote on his behalf: “The Bishop’s honesty of conscience, however, gave him no peace and he humbly submitted the request for forgiveness to the Holy See: his behavior should be an example to many.”
Indeed, it should. The CCP will accept no compromise—not with its own people, and certainly not with the Church.
What’s more, only in the last two years have we begun to understand the extent of China’s campaign to annihilate its Uyghur Muslims. Of course, we can’t blame the Vatican for that. But, again, for decades, Vatican City—a sovereign nation with an extensive diplomatic network—was the strongest and most consistent advocate for religious freedom around the world. Its capitulation to the Chicoms silenced that witness. How could their concordat with Beijing not have emboldened the regime?
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Still, why this dramatic about-face?
Since Marxism first appeared as a major political force in the early 20th century, the Catholic Church has been resolutely opposed to communism everywhere in the world, in all its many forms. Yet the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts have not always reflected her dogmatic opposition to socialism. In the early years of the Cold War, Pope Paul VI favored a policy of Ostpolitik: encouraging peace between the communist East and free West for the sake of preventing nuclear war.
That changed under Pope John Paul II, who was himself a victim of communist persecution in his native Poland. He understood that no real peace could ever exist between Marxism and Christianity. John Paul is widely credited with inspiring the anti-communist uprisings that swept Eastern Europe in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
Since the end of the Cold War, however, the Roman Curia (the Church’s senior bureaucracy) have once again begun to favor Ostpolitik. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s current Secretary of State, is its great champion. He brokered a similar power-sharing deal with Vietnam in 1996. He also led the Vatican’s successful effort to reopen diplomatic relations with China and Cuba in 2005 and in 2014, respectively.
In a 2017 interview about the Vatican’s place in the diplomatic landscape, Parolin said:
After the period of ideological opposition, which obviously can’t entirely fade from today to tomorrow, and in the new scenarios that have opened up since the end of the Cold War, it’s important to take advantage of every occasion to encourage respect, dialogue, and mutual collaboration in a view to promoting peace.
That’s all well and good in theory. But, just a few years earlier, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “China is willing to develop relations with the Vatican if the Vatican severs its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and refrains from interfering in China’s internal affairs … particularly interference in the name of religion.”
Parolin’s policy goes way beyond Ostpolitik—way beyond “peacekeeping”—and into full capitulation. As John Paul knew, communism is anti-Christian, and Christianity is anti-communist. For a communist government to tolerate Christianity, or for a Christian church to tolerate communism, it must sacrifice its own dogmas.
Hence one senior Vatican official’s insane declaration that “those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” Hence the Vatican’s complicity with the anti-Christian government in Beijing. Hence its shameful silence over Beijing’s crackdown against pro-independence protestors in Taiwan.
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Not everyone in the Church’s hierarchy is pleased with Parolin’s détente. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong, has loudly opposed the Vatican deal from the beginning. Last month, Zen travelled all the way to Rome for an audience with Pope Francis, hoping he might convince the Pontiff to let the China deal lapse. Zen was denied an audience.
The same week that Zen arrived in Rome, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also requested an audience with Pope Francis. Pompeo had recently published a remarkable essay in First Things imploring Rome to confront China over its egregious human rights violation, not to appease it. In his essay, Pompeo warned that,
If the Chinese Communist Party manages to bring the Catholic Church and other religious communities to heel, regimes that disdain human rights will be emboldened, and the cost of resisting tyranny will rise for all brave religious believers who honor God above the autocrat of the day.
He, too, was denied an audience with Francis—though he was allowed to meet with his Vatican counterpart, Cardinal Parolin.
The bureaucrats who run the Vatican’s diplomatic corps have abandoned the faithful in China and betrayed the Catholic faith. What’s frightening is that the Vatican’s Secretary of State is among the top three contenders to succeed Pope Francis upon the latter’s death. If Peking Parolin becomes the 266th successor to Saint Peter … God help us.
Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis Magazine. He is the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021).