The Roman Catholic Church In China


Recently there have been a number of reports about a possible rapprochement between the Vatican and China. The Holy See has been in negotiations for several years with the Chinese Communist Party and is now believed to be close to an agreement over the appointment of bishops in China. That agreement says that responsibility for the appointment of bishops would probably be shared between the Vatican and the Chinese government. There are those that argue that the deal is expected to confer Vatican recognition on seven China state-appointed bishops, who had been excommunicated by previous popes. It would clear the way for establishing diplomatic relations (which were cut in 1951) and creating “a more stable legal framework for the life of the Roman Catholic Church in China.”

But there are some Catholics who are strongly opposed to this trend, warning that it could create a schism in the church in China. Fifteen leading Catholics, many of them from Hong Kong, have written to bishops all over the world arguing that the Chinese government should not be allowed to play a role in the selection of bishops. The group argued that the moral integrity of the seven ‘illicit’ bishops (who were appointed by the Chinese Communist party and not by the Vatican) was questionable. Retired Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen argues that a deal with a ‘totalitarian’ regime would be immoral and a sell-out. He says: “In recent days, the brothers and sisters living on the Chinese mainland have learned that the Vatican is ready to surrender to the Chinese Communist party, and therefore they feel uneasy. Seeing that the illegitimate and excommunicated bishops will be legitimized, and the legitimate ones will be forced to retire, it is logical that the legitimate and clandestine bishops should be concerned about their fate.”

John L. Allen, editor of Crux, identifies four factors driving the Vatican’s eagerness to reach an agreement with Beijing:

Firstly, “there’s the root fact that there are millions of Catholics in China – somewhere between 10 and 15 million, according to most estimates.” Clearly, the Vatican would like to do whatever it can to improve their situation.

Secondly, “the Vatican has its own diplomatic corps, aspiring to be a voice of conscience on the global stage. China is already among a handful of truly titanic players on that stage, and that’s only going to become ever more so as its political, economic and military capabilities expand.” So the Vatican wants a voice in China.

Thirdly, there’s a historical sense of failure, which argues that the Catholic Church failed in the Chinese Rites controversy in the 17th and 18th centuries “and thus got in the way of developing a Church that’s truly Catholic and truly Chinese.” A second chance would be appreciated.

Fourthly, “many experts regard China as the world’s last truly competitive spiritual marketplace.” The Catholic church is aware that the Protestant church has exploded in a way they have not, and wants an opportunity to redress that balance.

The debate is “at what point compromise becomes appeasement”, denying “the legacy of martyrs in China who’ve paid the ultimate price for their fidelity to the pope.”

“Between these developments and the implementation of new religious regulations in China, it seems that 2018 is shaping up to be a very interesting year.”

(Sources: The Washington Post; The New York Times; Crux; ChinaSource)

Pray for the spiritual life of the Roman Catholic church in China and for its leadership. Pray that the Lord Jesus would be increasingly at the centre of that life.

Pray for the leadership of the Catholic church outside China, for the Holy Spirit to be heard in their planning and deliberations, and where that is not so, for the Lord to exercise His sovereignty.

Pray for those who have remained loyal to the Vatican, sometimes at high personal cost, that in this time of change they might find the changeless Saviour in a new and deeper way.


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