Participants in the synod of bishops which started this week in Rome were appointed by various means. National bishops’ conferences elected their bishop delegates, certain curial officials are participating ex officio, the eastern Churches had their designated representatives, and the Holy Father has appointed additional participants. Finally, the Chinese Communist Party made its appointments.

Let me explain. The revised apostolic constitution governing the synod, published just weeks ago by Pope Francis, did not include any provision for the Chinese communists to have their appointments, but things are moving fast in Rome.

The agreement signed on September 22 between the Holy See and China – or, in effect, with the Communist Party of China, which was given control over all religious affairs earlier this year – remains secret, so nobody really knows what is in it. Perhaps there was a clause related to synod appointments. Perhaps not. To be exact, only the Chinese know what they have agreed to, because China regularly violates many of the trade, intellectual property and monetary agreements it makes. So the Holy See, to say nothing of Catholics in China, will have to wait to see what in fact they ended up with.

We do know that Pope Francis – who took personal, immediate responsibility for the China accord during his airborne press conference returning from Estonia – agreed to lift the excommunications on seven bishops illicitly consecrated by the “Patriotic Association”, the puppet Church set up by the Chinese regime.

In a gesture of ill will, the Chinese communist authorities announced themselves who would attend the current synod in Rome. Such announcements, of course, are customarily made by the Holy See. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri announced that the two bishops “had been invited” by the Holy Father, which they must be to enter the synod, but the clear impression given was that they were chosen not by Rome but by Beijing.

It will be fascinating to see if bishops appointed by China will recommend to the synod the recent Chinese government practice of banning children from attending religious services. It’s unlikely that the synod on youth would otherwise consider that pastoral strategy.

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