Moore, a past vice-president of communications at the evangelical Christian, Virginia-based Liberty University, is now CEO of communications firm The Kairos Company.
“Surely, (Pope Francis) could have found a way to have a meaningful relationship with the Chinese-appointed bishops without picking sides between his flock and those who’ve viciously opposed it for so long,” he said. “I’m also afraid that clever leaders in China will use this deal with the Vatican to distract the world from their resurgent, egregious mistreatment of other religious communities.”
Farr’s remarks tried to place China-Vatican relations in a historical context. In the centuries that Catholics have been in China, beginning even before missionary priest Matteo Ricci’s founding of a Jesuit mission in 1601, they have encountered “the assertion that Catholicism is incompatible with Chinese culture and must either be rooted out or adapted in ways that would change its fundamental nature.”
While Christianity became associated with European imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries, against which many Chinese rebelled, it also suffered intense persecution after the Cultural Revolution after communist forces took power in 1949 under Mao Zedong.
China’s government attempted to absorb or destroy all religion. It expelled the papal representative to China and over a decade’s time engaged in “brutal treatment” of Catholics, Protestants and other religious groups, Farr said. This intensified under the Cultural Revolution begun in the 1960s.
“Priests and nuns were tortured, murdered (some were burned alive), and imprisoned in labor camps. Lay Christians were paraded in their towns and villages with cylindrical hats detailing their ‘crimes’,” he said. Catholic clergy and laity were among the tens of millions who died “terrible deaths.”
“While Mao proved that a policy of eliminating religion is unrealistic, his successors have constantly experimented in finding the ‘correct’ way to control, co-opt, and absorb religion into the communist state,” Farr continued. Since the 1970s, China’s religious policies have had “ups and downs as new Chinese leaders adapted policies to achieve the objective of control.”
“Not all Chinese policy involves overt repression of religion,” he said. In recent decades, China’s leaders have at times supported “religious groups perceived to be capable of consolidating Beijing’s absolute power.” According to Farr, this has sometimes meant praise for non-Tibetan Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism as China’s “traditional cultures.”
“Clearly those three groups pose a lesser threat to Communist rule than do the Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians,” he said. “For the moment at least, it is the latter three religious communities that are the objects of continuing repression, especially the Uighurs.”
Citing State Department estimates of 70 million to 90 million Christians in China, with about 12 million Catholic, he said the growth of Chinese Christianity, especially through conversions to Protestant denominations, is “of great concern to the Chinese.”
Moving the State Administration for Religious Affairs to the United Front Work Department, which historically has been tasked with controlling China’s ethnic minorities, ensures “increased monitoring and control over the perceived threat posed by religion’s growth in China.”
(Story continues below)
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Moore, a commissioner on the U.S. international religious freedom commission, had voiced astonishment that the Vatican would normalize its relationship with China “within one week of China so brazenly closing Beijing’s large Zion Church and just a few weeks after the United Nations, the New York Times and the U.S. State Department all revealed that China has forcibly placed as many as one million Muslims in re-education camps.”
“Honestly, I was in total disbelief. I said to myself, ‘not this, not now’ and then, I just prayed,” he continued.
Following a two-day review of China’s record in August, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has said that up to 1 million Uyghurs may be held against their will and without trial in extra-legal detention, on pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.
Farr voiced fear that the agreement reflects a “failed Cold War ‘realpolitik’ diplomacy” of the 1960s Vatican that was changed by St. John Paul II, a failure he blamed on a lack of realism about “the evil of communism.”
“It harmed the Church in parts of Eastern Europe,” he said. “The post-war Vatican was not then, and is not now, a secular power capable of changing the behavior of communist governments by dint of its political diplomacy.”
He contended that the Vatican is “the only authority in the world constituted precisely to address the root causes of totalitarian evil,” citing St. John Paul II’s cooperation in the 1980s with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.