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Underground Church Frustration on the Rumored China–Vatican Deal

It has been reported that China and the Vatican will soon sign a bishop appointment agreement. Members of the underground church responded with dissatisfaction. Some question whether the government will need to approve the content of the future priest’s sermons; some priests expressed that if there is no underground church, they will quit being priests.

The expectation was that, with the deal inked at the end of the month, Beijing would recognize the Pope as head of China’s Catholics in return for the Vatican’s recognition of excommunicated Chinese bishops. In addition, the Pope also has a veto power over the appointment of Chinese bishops and China will promote the integration of the official church and the underground church.

Some Chinese underground churches believe that the appointment of bishops is one of the most important and sacred powers of the Holy See. The Pope sharing this power with an atheistic government is not in line with Catholic teachings. Moreover, the Vatican’s move may be seen as the acquiescence to Beijing’s increasingly austere religious policy.

One priest from an underground church in Shanghai said that, “It’s impossible that China and Vatican could reach an agreement” on the grounds that the Chinese Communists oppose foreign forces from interfering in religious affairs, but in the event of an agreement, “I don’t need to be a priest since there will be no underground church.”

A Beijing Catholic Church member questioned whether the content of the priest’s preaching would require government approval. He feared that this would lead to the splitting of the Catholic Church. At present, in the officially recognized churches in China, the content of the sermon of a pastor or a priest must be submitted for official approval beforehand.

Although the Vatican may wish to use this agreement to guarantee the religious rights of Catholic Church members in China, China’s ultimate goal is to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican, digging away Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in Europe.

Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University of China, said that the compromise between the mainland and the Vatican was “more importantly in consideration of Taiwan.” As long as the bishop’s appointment deal is negotiated, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries “will have no major obstacles.”

Source: Central News Agency, September 16, 2018