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The Vatican should not cede selection of bishops in China to the Communist Party.
November 26, 2018
Under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control, China has shown itself to be an extraordinarily dictatorial and authoritarian nation. All kinds of freedoms that are taken for granted in the West—freedom of expression, of the media, of religion—are not only denied under CCP rule but routinely and often violently repressed. Human rights activists and lawyers disappear and are tortured, while alternative political parties are crushed. Calls for justice are met with the iron hand of the state. Muslims have been rounded up in the hundreds of thousands and forced into re-education camps in China’s Xinjiang Province. This is a regime that will use any means to maintain its monopoly on power. It is also a regime that knows how to present itself to the West, saying and doing the right things to draw support from leaders abroad. Its veneer of civility is an attempt to cover up the reality of its immorality.
I grew up under this Party-State system and personally experienced the Communist Party’s violence and brutality, and I have known and worked with countless individuals in China who have been persecuted for their beliefs. It has thus been with intense shock and dismay that I have watched the Vatican’s rapprochement with China take shape.
China’s View of Religion
What we currently know of the agreement is that the Vatican will cede selection of bishops in China to the Communist Party. In exchange, the CCP will recognize the pope as the official head of the Catholic Church, and regular relations between the two states will be renewed.
The fact that the Vatican sees these terms as an acceptable basis for reconciliation with a brutal dictatorial regime is a slap in the face to millions of Catholics and other faithful religious people in China who have suffered real persecution under the CCP. In fact, it is an affront to reasonable and freedom-loving people everywhere. As a self-described atheist regime, the CCP simply cannot claim authority over religious affairs, such as the choice of bishops. And its offering recognition of the pope is as paltry a concession as admitting the sky is blue.
In China, the CCP seeks to lead and control all. Religion, however, encourages goodness, reverence for the sacred, loyalty towards others, and veneration of an omnipotent spiritual power. Its set of refined values are at odds with the self-serving atheism and extreme party loyalty the CCP has long sought to inculcate in the population. Religion asks for trust in a higher power—higher still than the Communist Party can claim—and faith in ideas that are beyond the reach of the regime’s clutches.
Chinese people have been turning to religion—including Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, and Daoism—in great numbers over the past decades as they emerge from the horrors of botched socialist policies. This trend has caused the CCP to feel threatened and anxious. It sees these disparate groups as competitors, leading it to intensify suppression with growing scope and vigor. Over the past decade, the CCP has been aggressively attacking underground Catholic and Protestant house churches, first going after banned religious symbols and dismantling crosses. More recently, they have been destroying churches openly. From Zhejiang and Fujian to the Shaanxi, Henan, and Jiangxi Provinces, these attacks have expanded across the entire country. According to reports, in Zhejiang Province alone more than 1,300 crosses and churches have been destroyed over the past few years. Zhenzhou City, Henan Province, and the Xinyang and Nanyang areas have seen countless churches and crosses torn down. The CCP has been arresting priests, threatening congregants, and searching churches and places of worship. Many have disappeared and been tortured while under the regime’s control, refusing to relinquish their beliefs to a degraded, intolerant political party, and proving the power of their faith.
To construct a façade of religious freedom to satisfy the West, the CCP allows certain religious practices and churches but only within officially sanctioned settings. In fact, believers—principally of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim faiths—are often forced to join these religious establishments where the activities of members can be closely monitored. Congregants are required to sing communist songs and raise the national flag. The CCP is even preparing its own edition of the Bible, titled “The Chinese Christian Bible.” Its purpose is to force its socialist, secular values into the text while presenting a fiction of religious tolerance to the outside. In theory, the Chinese constitution guarantees “the right of the people to freedom of religion and belief.” In practice, the CCP’s official churches are a base disfigurement of these ideals.
The sad reality is that any alternative system of organization—not just religion—that can unite, focus, and bring people together will be seen as the enemy of the CCP and will face wanton persecution. For years, the CCP has meted out heavy sentences to independent political parties and has tightly controlled the development of the media and the Internet. Through isolation, threats, detention, and torture, the CCP instills a sense of instability and insecurity, to nip in the bud any incipient movement that could prove a threat to its power.
Ceding Selection of Bishops Is a Serious Mistake
Despite such an environment, the Vatican is ceding selection of Catholic bishops to the CCP. Congregants won’t accept this, and even non-Catholics find it extremely hard to understand. It is simply preposterous—as preposterous as the CCP selecting a new Tibetan Panchen Lama—for the CCP to involve itself in the selection of bishops. Clearly, the agreement is a blatantly political move designed only to serve the CCP’s interests. Not only does the action of the CCP selecting Catholic bishops represent a major decline for the Vatican, but it is the equivalent of bowing before evil, of selling God to the devil. Does the Vatican not know that the Communist Party controls everything in China? The Vatican ended relations with China in 1951 after the Communist Party had taken over power because the Party wanted to lead everything, including the spiritual realm. Now, after sixty-seven years, the Vatican is throwing away its values and accepting the leadership of the CCP. This will become yet another shameful episode whose stain the Catholic Church will be unable to cleanse.
I am sure that the active members of underground churches in China who have persevered against crippling persecution for so long can only feel betrayed. They must certainly feel that the Vatican is growing further from God and closer to the superficial human world of vice—closer to a Communist Party that is responsible for the deaths of over four hundred million unborn children and hundreds of millions of Chinese people. Can this actually represent the will of the heavens?
China was once referred to as “the land of Heaven,” a place where spiritual culture was valued and revered. A sense of morality based on this spiritual culture has been passed down through the ages. It remains deep in the bones of the people, despite the upheavals of empires and the seventy years of Communist Party domination.
The Chinese people are awakening to their rights, seeing clearly that the CCP is the root of social iniquities, and are fighting back. Many Western countries are gradually opening their eyes to the truth of the CCP’s evil and the looming possibility of a political and social transformation in China. At such a moment as this, the Vatican’s deal with China can only bring shame on its name.
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