Mon, Oct 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik On Taiwan: The Vatican’s ‘provisional accord’ with Beijing

When the dust settles and the incense clears away, the “provisional accord” between the Holy See and Beijing that was announced (but not revealed) on Saturday, Sept. 22, will leave both Chinese Catholics and their sisters and brothers in Taiwan wondering what all the fuss was about. The “accord” is only a first concession by Pope Francis to test Beijing’s willingness to engage.

Of course, the Vatican “hopes” the agreement will be “historic” while Beijing doesn’t see fit to tout it at all — except to foreign media, and even then not enthusiastically. It seems that Beijing doesn’t want to draw attention to the Holy Father’s magnanimous acceptance of Beijing’s state-designated “bishops.” Perhaps because further movement depends on the Chinese Communist Party’s recognition of over 40 existing Papal consecrated bishops in China’s underground Catholic Church.

Incongruously, the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, with archangels’ clarions and front-page prominence, declared Sept. 22, 2018, to be “A Date in History.” Why? Because this “provisional accord between China and the Holy See on the appointment of Bishops, is an agreement prepared through decades of long and patient negotiations.” Alas, decades of patient negotiations have yielded no improvement in the fate of China’s Catholics.

A separate Vatican communique issued on the Holy See homepage offered tantalizing hints of the Vatican-Beijing talks: 1) the “Provisional Agreement” is the “fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement”; 2) it “foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application”; 3) it concerns the nomination of bishops and 4) “creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level.”

The Vatican communique concludes with the upbeat Vatican view — certainly not Beijing’s — that their “shared” hope is that this agreement could possibly “favor a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world.”

L’Osservatore foresees that “contrasting and opposing interpretations will be unceasing.” No doubt, Pope Francis himself already is stung by such “interpretations” from Catholics in China and Hong Kong, for the understandable reason that no details were released. But I suspect that the Vatican will also have its own insuperable “contrasting and opposing interpretations” with Beijing over the coming months.

The Holy Father responded to skeptics with a six-page pastoral letter “to the Catholics of China and the Universal Church” on Sept. 26. A heartfelt apologia, Pope Francis’s message expresses his emotion for the past seven decades of suffering endured by the Church in China and admiration for the fidelity and constancy amid trial it has demonstrated. But he alludes to deep resentments and hatreds within the Chinese Church between those who were tortured, robbed of intellect, and martyred for their tenacious faith, and those who compromised when the pain was unendurable. Alas, the compromisers tended to make their Christian life “a museum of memories,” of incense, cassocks, communion and candles, and neglected to live their lives as Catholics in the awareness that “their fellow citizens expect from them a greater commitment to the service of the common good.” He begged Catholics in China to “rise above personal prejudices and conflicts between groups and communities.” And the first step in China’s intra-ecclesial reconciliation is to resolve tensions among the episcopate, both the government-sponsored bishops and the underground.

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