“Today, the Church in China looks to the future with hope,” Pope Francis said on Thursday.
In September of 2018, the Holy See reached a provisional agreement with the People’s Republic of China on the ordination of bishops, with the intent of unifying the underground Catholic Church—which had long been loyal to the Holy See—and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the state-sanctioned Church which had illicitly ordained bishops without Vatican approval.
The Holy See hoped the agreement would normalize conditions for underground Catholics in China, which for decades had been persecuted by the communist government. There are an estimated more than 10 million Catholics in China, with six million belonging to the CPCA according to official statistics.
While the details of the agreement have not been released, the Vatican is believed to have accepted joint authority on the selection of bishops with Communist party authorities. Seven bishops illicitly ordained in the Communist-run church were brought into full communion with the Vatican after the deal was agreed with underground bishops being asked to step aside by the Holy See.
There have been reports of continued persecution of the underground Church in China after the Vatican-China agreement. A report of the U.S. China Commission found that, in 2018 and 2019 conditions for underground Catholics remained poor and had arguably gotten worse.
In the Diocese of Mindong, the underground bishop Vincent Guo Xijin stepped aside for Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, one of the seven bishops brought into communion with the Holy See under the 2018 agreement.
Guo, however, refused to register with the CPCA. After his residence was confiscated by authorities, Guo has reportedly been left homeless and is run from government authorities.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has been a vocal critic of the Vatican-China deal. He told CNA in February that “the Vatican lost everything, and got nothing.”
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the new dean of the College of Cardinals, countered in a letter to cardinals in late February that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II both would have supported the agreement.
There was “a profound symphony of the thought and of the action of the last three Pontificates” on “dialogue” between the Vatican and China, he wrote.
Cardinal Re, a former official of the Vatican state secretariat from 1989 until 2000, said he had “personally taken note of the existing documents in the Current Archive of the Secretariat of State” and emphasized that Pope Benedict had approved the draft of the agreement “which only in 2018 was it possible to sign.”
In response, Cardinal Zen wrote an open letter to Cardinal Re and asked for “archival evidence” and “the text of the agreement” to support his assertion that Benedict and John Paul II supported the agreement.
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On Thursday, the Associated Press also reported that ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang—where at least one million Uyghur Muslims are detained in camps—are being coerced by the state to work in factories after having endured forced detention.
According to the AP, “mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs” were reportedly working in a factory that was in the supply chains of U.S. tech companies. The factory was surrounded by walls, guards, and security cameras. Workers are enrolled in classes where they learn Mandarin and “ethnic unity.”