In July, Taiwan’s newly installed Archbishop Thomas An-Zu Chung said that such a move “could happen soon if the mainland Chinese government is more open-minded and receptive towards the Roman Catholic Church.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told journalists that the Vatican has sought to downplay the same possibility.
“The Vatican has assured us repeatedly that the bishop appointment deal with China is a religious rather than a diplomatic matter,” a ministry spokesperson said at a press conference Sept. 15, according to the national news agency of Taiwan.
"We have been closely observing the interactions between the Vatican and Beijing, and we maintain smooth communications with the Holy See,” Ou said.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, said last week that the Vatican’s goal in negotiations is to “normalize” the life of the Church in China.
“With China, our current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the Pope,” Parolin said Sept. 14.
While the Chinese government has insisted that the 2018 agreement has been implemented smoothly, state officials in different regions of China have continued to remove crosses and demolish church buildings, and underground Catholics and clergy continue to report harassment and detention.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the state-affiliated Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Zhejiang Province’s Chinese Catholic educational administration committee issued new regulations on the reopening of churches requiring Chinese “patriotism” to be added to the celebration of the liturgy.
While the agreement cedes a measure of control over episcopal appointments to the Communist government, there are also more than 50 dioceses without bishops in China, including Hong Kong – which has seen a severe crackdown on civil liberties since the imposition of a new National Security Law in July.
At the same time, however, some Vatican sources have mentioned to CNA that, since the deal was signed, there have been no illicit ordinations of bishops selected without Rome’s approval, a move some point to as a sign of progress.
The Vatican, and Pope Francis, have refrained from public comment on the continued abuses of Chinese Catholics by the government during the course of the two-year deal. The Holy See has also remained silent on the the detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs in a network of concentration camps in Xinjiang Province, which human rights groups have called a “genocide” and campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”
(Story continues below)
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In an interview Monday with CNA, Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired Bishop of Hong Kong, said that the Church’s efforts to negotiate an extension to the 2018 agreement with China are harming the evangelization of that country, especially because of Vatican silence on human rights abuses.
“The resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization,” the cardinal said. “Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”
Asked if he saw any prospect of an improvement for the local Church coming out of Vatican negotiations with the current Communist government, Zen said simply “No.”
“Is there any choice between helping the Government to destroy the Church or resisting the Government to keep our Faith?” Zen told CNA.