Tue, Feb 06, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Roadblocks to China-Vatican ties

By Ho Szu-shen 何思慎

There have been media reports that the dispute between the Holy See and China over appointing bishops might have been settled and that the Vatican would ask some bishops appointed by the Holy See to stand aside and make way for their China-selected counterparts, a scenario that poses dangers to Vatican-Taiwan diplomatic ties.

The Holy See is likely to take a patient approach to dealing with its relations with China, and it will likely be a long process. Even if China were to reach an agreement with the Holy See on the right to appoint bishops, this should not be simplistically taken to mean that the two sides are forming diplomatic ties, as there are several other problems in their relationship.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in October 1942. After the cross-strait political division, the Holy See has held firmly to its “one China” policy — that is, recognizing the Republic of China government as the only representative of China — and named its embassy in Taipei the “Apostolic Nunciature to China.”

Every time the Vatican secretary of state sends out formal notifications to the ROC’s embassy to the Holy See, the addressee is always the “Embassy of China to the Holy See.”

If the Vatican reaches an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime on establishing diplomatic ties, the “Apostolic Nunciature to China” will simply be moved from Taipei to Beijing, and it will have nothing to do with whether the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are unified.

The obstacle to Holy See-China relations is not the “one China” policy or the “Taiwan issue,” but rather the atheism and materialism espoused by the CCP, ideologies that run counter to the doctrines of Catholicism.

During the revolutionary period, the CCP treated Catholic missionary work in China as part of imperialism, and Beijing has looked upon the Holy See with hostility since then.

Moreover, the reason there has never been a breakthrough in relations between Beijing and the Holy See is that the Chinese authorities must recognize the Holy See’s right to appoint bishops for the Chinese dioceses. The selection and consecration of bishops by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in every Chinese diocese are not in compliance with the Catholic Church hierarchy, in which all bishops of the universal church must be appointed by the pope.

This is also the key which helps explain former pope Benedict XVI’s saying in a pastoral letter in 2007 that some entities are “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”

Another obstacle blocking relations between the Holy See and China being normalized is the split between the underground church and the state-controlled open church. Relieving this tension and promoting mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, and eventually unifying the two sides, is no easier than compromising on the right to appoint bishops.

The clergy, practitioners and lay faithful of the underground church have suffered greatly from the CCP’s prosecution, simply because they insist on realizing a faithful life lived in accordance to the Gospels.

The underground faithful cannot let go of the past suffering to be unified with the state-controlled open church. Although the Holy See stopped publicly consecrating underground bishops in 2005 to facilitate and promote the unification of the Catholic Church in China, waiting for the proper opportunity to resolve the conflict between the state-controlled and the underground churches requires time.

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