The 2018 Vatican-China agreement, which ceded a measure of control over episcopal appointments in China to the Communist government, is set to expire in September. Negotiations to extend that deal could determine the nomination of Su's successor and influence the current treatment of Catholics in China.
According to report, released July 28, a Chinese state-sponsored group has targeted the Vatican and other Catholic organizations with cyberattacks to gain an advantage in negotiations and monitor the Holy See's communications with the Diocese of Hong Kong.
"We urge the Vatican to make determining his [Bishop Su] fate a priority during any ongoing negotiation with the Chinese government, and to refuse to recognize any replacement bishop for Baoding city in Hubei province," Turkel said of negotiations between the Vatican and China on a renewal of the agreement.
If Bishop Su is dead, then the "choosing of his replacement could occur under the terms of this agreement," Dr. Tom Farr said of the current agreement. Farr is the president of the Religious Freedom Institute.
While the deal was meant to bring about the unification of the CPCA with the underground Church in China loyal to Rome, Christians have continued to be harassed and persecuted, and at least 50 mainland dioceses in China are without bishops due to gridlock in new appointments.
The resulting situation for many underground Catholics in China has been one of immense tension, Farr said.
"I think they are being pressured in an extraordinary sense," Farr said, in that they are pressed by the government to join the CCPA but also "they feel abandoned by the Holy See."
At the same time, anywhere from 800,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs in the country's northwestern province of Xinjiang are estimated to have been detained in a system of more than 1,300 camps. Consistent accounts have emerged from the region, detailing anti-religious indoctrination, torture, forced sterilization, and other abuses committed against those in camps.
Many Uyghurs have reportedly been forced to work in factories or agriculture inside and outside of the detention camps, or have been moved by the authorities to other factories throughout China. Citizens of Xinjiang outside the camps are subject to a system of mass surveillance and predictive policing.
The Catholic Church must be speaking out more forcefully on the situation in Xinjiang, Farr said.
"And the Pope has spoken out about this, but I sense that because of the desire not to offend the Chinese, some within the Catholic hierarchy are pulling their punches. This is just flatly un-Catholic.," he said.
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"It is the Catholic position that every human being ought to have religious freedom, it is deeply theological."
The regime of Xi Jinping "both understands and fears the power of religion," Farr said.
Catholicism, he said, "poses a particular difficulty" to the CCP because of its "distinct doctrine" and "teaching authority" of bishops in communion with the Pope.
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, said that the Chinese Communist Party sees Christianity as dangerously "successful" with so many followers worldwide, and the underground Church in China as the "only nationally-supported institution with an ideology, belief system, separate from the Communist Party."
Consequently, Shea said, the Chinese Communist Party is intolerant of the very existence of underground churches separate from their party system.