From the Vatican, a Cold Shower On Negotiations With Beijing

From the Vatican, a Cold Shower On Negotiations With Beijing

Sandro Magister

Francis is the first pope to have flown over China. But whether he will set foot there remains to be seen. In August Libreria Editrice Vaticana has made public a dossier that is a brutal cold shower for those who continue to say that an accord between the Holy See and Beijing is imminent.

The dossier, edited by Gianni Cardinale, an expert on Vatican geopolitics and an eminent writer for “Avvenire” and “Limes,” does not comment on but documents what until now was known only in bits and pieces.

It furnishes for the first time the names of the bishops of each Chinese diocese, official and underground, legitimate and illicit.

But above all it lines up the biographies, compiled by the secretariat of state, of 75 bishops in China who have died between 2004 and today, all of them crushed by years or decades of imprisonment, forced labor, reeducation camps, house arrest, policemen constantly tagging along.

If this is the treatment that the communist regime inflicts on the Chinese bishops in the field, it is clear that all of this must cease before the Vatican could agree to sign an accord with the Beijing authorities on the appointment of future bishops.

The calvary of the Chinese bishops, in fact, does not date back only to times long ago, to Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, when the declared objective of the regime was the annihilation of the Catholic Church and the creation of a simulacrum of it decoupled from Rome and completely subservient.

It also continued after the release from prison of bishops or future bishops, who in order to survive were forced to work in a salt mine or a stone quarry, to raise pigs, to bake bricks, the more fortunate working as cobblers or peddlers.

Still in 2005 there was one bishop, John Gao Kexian of the diocese of Yantai, who was learned to have passed away after all traces of him had been lost following his abduction by the police in 1999.

The same thing happened in 2007 to another bishop, John Han Dingxiang of the diocese of Yongnian, imprisoned for twenty years, released but then again disappeared in 2006, whose death was communicated to his relatives after he had been cremated and buried in an unrevealed location.

In 2010 it was yet another bishop, John Yang Shudao of the diocese of Fuzhou, who died after spending twenty-six years in prison and the rest “almost always under house arrest and strict surveillance.”

Not to mention the tribulations of the most recent bishops of Shanghai, the Jesuit Joseph Fan Zhingliang, who died in 2014 after “always having exercised his ministry underground,” and his successor Thaddeus Ma Daqin, under arrest since 2012 for having resigned from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association – in obedience to Rome, which judges membership in it as “incompatible” with the Catholic faith – and not set free since then in spite of his retraction of the resignation last year.

For this year, finally, comes the abduction and detention in an undisclosed location of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of the diocese of Wenzhou, whose release the German embassy in China and then the Holy See itself publicly requested last June 26, without receiving any response.

In the face of all of this, the optimism that Pope Francis shows every time he touches on the question of China can be explained only as an exercise of Realpolitik pushed to the extreme.

Because it is true that a negotiation is underway between the two sides, with meetings every three months alternating between Rome and Beijing. But apart from the striking absence of freedom that is substantiated in the Vatican dossier published in recent days, there are at least two obstacles to an accord on the procedures for appointing future bishops.

The first is that the Chinese episcopal conference, which would be responsible for selecting the candidates, is currently made up only of the bishops officially recognized by Beijing, without the thirty or so “underground” bishops who instead are recognized only by Rome; and there is no way to convince the Chinese authorities to include these as well.

While the second obstacle is presented by seven “official” bishops who the regime claims have also been recognized by the Holy See, of whom three have been publicly excommunicated and a couple have lovers and children.

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