In 1951 the mainland Chinese government ended diplomatic relations with the Vatican shortly after the atheist Communist Party took power. The government had been threatening to breakaway the “independent Catholics.” The government apparently manufactured an incident that resulted in a charge of conspiracy to assassinate leader Mao Zedong. One person was executed, and the head Catholic priest of the region was sent to prison for life where he died there in 1961. Four others “conspirators” received lesser sentences. The Vatican’s diplomatic mission to China was banished for “espionage.” Since then, two parallel Catholic Churches have grown up in China: the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Assoc. (CCPA) run by the bishops appointed by the State, and an underground Catholic Church with many bishops appointed by the Vatican. Both Catholic groups together make up about 10 to 12 million people in a country of 1.4 billion, making them less than 1 percent of the population. It is also a country where Protestant churches are already growing fast. Since 2014, talks started by Pope Benedict XVI have been ongoing to try and bring the two Chinese Catholics groups together under Vatican controlled Bishops and the Pope. According to Reuters news in their report of February 1, 2018, a deal between the Vatican and China is ready and could be signed in a few months. The agreement would be a historic breakthrough in relations. Under that agreement it is reported that the Vatican will have a say in negotiations for the appointment of future bishops. Reuter’s Vatican source said “It is not a great agreement but we don’t know what the situation will be like in 10 or 20 years. It could even be worse. Afterwards we will still be like a bird in a cage, but the cage will be bigger. It is not easy. Suffering will continue. We will have to fight for every centimeter to increase the size of the cage.” There are about 100 Catholic bishops in China, with some approved by the government, some by the Vatican, and informally, many now approved by both. The Vatican news source rejected the recent accusations by outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, the former bishop of Hong Kong that the Vatican is preparing to “sell out” to the Chinese government. He accused the Vatican of forcing bishops to retire in favor of replacement bishops picked by the Chinese government and that the Pope was being kept in the dark. The Vatican source said the Pope has been following closely the complex situation. Two Chinese bishops loyal to the Vatican would take on different positions in their dioceses. Five out of seven “illegitimate bishops” backed by the government have asked for a pardon from Pope Francis and to be made legitimate. In a sharply worded statement following Cardinal Zen’s accusations, the Vatican said it was surprising and regrettable that some people in the Church were “fostering confusion and controversy.” For the Chinese government, an agreement with the Vatican might help impose order on a troublesome and conflicted community. Father Heyndrickx a Belgian priest who has spent 60 years trying to help China’s Catholics said China has changed and the Church has changed and despite doubters and obstacles on both sides, it is the best opportunity in his lifetime for dialogue to succeed. On the other hand, Cardinal Zen does not think the government needs to compromise, they want a complete surrender. Confucius say: Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
Sources: reuters.com, bbc.com, theguardian.com, vaticannews.va, Wikipedia.org, washngtonpost.com