Mon, Oct 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

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

Getting Pope Francis to lift the excommunication of seven “bishops” appointed by the Chinese Communist Party (without so much as a by-your-leave to the Vatican) was a major win for Beijing. In return, according to Pope Francis’s remarks to reporters, the Communists apparently agreed to a Vatican “veto” of future appointees, but even that is unclear. The fact that Pope Francis insisted only that “It’s not (that the government) names them. It is a dialogue. But the pope will appoint them. Let that be clear,” is a sure sign that it was some kind of tacit understanding and was not part of any written “provisional accord.”

But news leaking from Rome on Thursday, Sept. 28, is profoundly dispiriting. Beijing seeks to eliminate or retire all of the 40 or so remaining Catholic bishops who so far have refused the “leadership” of the Communist Party. And just what kind of “leadership” the state-appointed “bishops” will accept from the Holy Father is left, under the “accord,” to further “dialogue.”

The “dialogue” alluded to by the Holy Father, “requires time and presupposes the good will of both parties.” And Francis quoted an ancient Jesuit missionary in China, Matteo Ricci (利瑪竇), whose pastoral essay to his Chinese friends “On Friendship” (交友論) counseled, “before friendship, one must observe, after becoming friends, one must trust.” Pope Francis then explains to his flock in China that he has “carefully examined every individual personal situation” of excommunicated bishops, and he says, “I have received numerous concrete signs and testimonies ... including from bishops who have damaged communion in the Church,” and in the end, he grants them reconciliation. But there is a condition. “I ask them to express with concrete and visible gestures their restored unity with the Apostolic See.”

A Vatican Press Office statement was less triumphal. The agreement “is not the end of a process. It’s the beginning.” This is diplomatic jargon that means the Vatican has its own timetable for benchmarks of progress separate from the Accord’s written text, including, no doubt, the sincerity of restored bishops’ “concrete and visible gestures of restored unity.” If the benchmarks are not met, then the process cannot progress. The Press Office admits “This has been about ... patient listening on both sides even when people come from very different standpoints.” In other words, the Holy Father is gimlet-eyed about the teleological aims of the Church in stark contrast to the totalitarian goals of the Chinese Communist Party.

Finally, the Vatican Press statement reassures Taiwan and other skeptics that “the objective of the accord is not political i.e. ‘diplomatic’ but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.” Unfortunately, this communique was reached between the Vatican and Beijing foreign ministries, a fact which underscores the “diplomatic” nature of the talks. A genuine negotiation on “episcopal appointments” would have been with the “National Religious Affairs Administration” (NARA), which is directly subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front bureaucracy where resides direct authority over Catholics in China.

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