Wednesday 24 April 2024

Cardinal Parolin confirms Vatican aims to renew secretive deal with China this year

Vatican reportedly hacked by China before religious freedom talks

The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has confirmed to LifeSiteNews that the Holy See intends to renew its secretive deal with Communist China later this year.

In an email exchange, Parolin affirmed that the highly controversial Sino-Vatican deal that the Holy See has with the communist authorities in Beijing is set for renewal this autumn.

Responding to a question from LifeSiteNews asking if the Vatican intended to renew the deal, Parolin stated “with reference to your question about the Holy See’s agreement with China… we hope to renew it.” 

“We are also in dialogue on this point with our Chinese interlocutors,” the cardinal secretary of state added.

Parolin has served as the Vatican’s secretary of state and chief diplomat since October 2013 and has been in the Holy See’s diplomatic service since 1986. His confirmation of the Vatican’s intention comes as the highly secretive with China deal is set for its third two-year renewal in September or October. 

The officially secret deal is believed to recognize the state-approved church in China and allows the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to appoint bishops. The Pope apparently maintains veto power, although in practice it is the CCP that has control. It also allegedly allows for the removal of legitimate bishops to be replaced by CCP-approved bishops.

Speaking in July 2023, Parolin defended the secretive nature of the deal, stating that “the text is confidential because it has not yet been finally approved.” The deal, which “revolves around the basic principle of consensuality of decisions affecting bishops,” is effected by “trusting in the wisdom and goodwill of all,” Parolin said.

In comments made in July, Parolin additionally defended the deal as a necessary means of “dialogue” with the Communist authorities in China.

Pope Francis and Parolin have both been vocal in their defense of the agreement, with the Pope stating before its 2022 renewal that the deal “is going well.”

Indeed, in a 2018 letter to Chinese Catholics, Francis described the deal as forming a “new chapter of the Catholic Church in China.”

But outside the walls of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, criticism has come from Catholic clergy, freedom advocates, and China experts.

The highly secretive Sino-Vatican deal has been styled by Hong Kong emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen as an “incredible betrayal,” with the much-loved cardinal further accusing the Vatican of “selling out” Chinese Catholics. 

In 2018, the prelate called for Parolin to resign, criticizing his “complete surrender” of the Church to the Communist authorities.

“It’s a betrayal of the real Church,” Zen then said of the deal in July 2020 before adding: “It’s not an isolated episode. It’s already a long-standing policy of the Vatican not to offend the Chinese government.”

The ink had barely dried on the deal in 2018 before AsiaNews, a site that regularly documents the abductions and torturing of underground Catholics, reported that “(u)nderground Catholics bitterly suspect that the Vatican has abandoned them.”

Before the first renewal of the deal in 2020, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that “(t)he Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” He linked to an article he penned on the subject in which he stated that “it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations.”

Indeed, in the nearly six years since the deal was implemented, persecution of Catholics – particularly the “underground” Catholics who do not accept the state-controlled church – has demonstrably increased. 

The deal has led to a heightened increase in religious persecution, which the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China described as a direct consequence of the deal. In its 2020 report, the Commission wrote that the persecution witnessed is “of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution.”

“All bishops who refuse to join the Catholic Patriotic Association are being placed under house arrest, or disappeared, by the CCP,” China expert Steven Moser told LifeSiteNews earlier this month. “Although the Vatican said several years ago that the Sino-Vatican agreement does not require anyone to join this schismatic organization, refusal to do so results in persecution and punishment. And the Vatican stands by and does nothing.” 

The closest the Holy See has come to acknowledging shortcomings with the deal is via its foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. The archbishop, who serves as Vatican Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, said last year that the deal was “not the best deal possible” due to the “other party.”

Just last month, Gallagher described it as still being “a useful means for the Holy See and the Chinese authorities to deal with the question of the appointment of bishops,” though very guardedly admitting limitations to the deal. 

Indeed, a series of episcopal appointments since the last renewal of the deal in October 2022 have highlighted the primacy of power wielded by Beijing in the deal. On three known occasions, the CCP appointed new bishops or appointed them to new dioceses, leaving the Vatican to play catch-up with the events and express its diplomatically worded frustration. 

New developments in favor of the Vatican in the deal appear, therefore, unlikely. In July 2023, Parolin had stated the Holy See hopes for “the opening of an established liaison office of the Holy See in China” that “would not only favor dialogue with the civil authorities but also contribute to full reconciliation within the Chinese Church and its journey towards a desirable normality.”

But Gallagher stated last month that while “we have always believed that this would be useful,” there was no “willingness or openness” from the Chinese authorities on the point.