Pope Francis defends deal with China

What happened?

Pope Francis defended his deal with China, first to journalists on the papal plane and then in a letter to Chinese Catholics released by the Vatican the next day. He said he took full responsibility for the deal and that, in any such agreement, “both sides lose something” – for him, that was total control of bishops’ appointments. In his letter he said the aim was to “heal the wounds of the past, restore full communion among all Chinese Catholics” and aid the preaching of the Gospel.

What commentators are saying

John Allen, writing at Crux, said the gist of the Pope’s letter was: “Trust me.” He needed to make this kind of appeal, Allen said, because so few details are known about the deal and Catholics can only guess what it means. The problem, Allen wrote, is that Pope Francis is facing a “trust deficit”, partly because of what he has inherited – “underground Catholics in China often feel the Vatican has betrayed them repeatedly since the era of Paul VI” – and partly because the Pope hasn’t offered the kind of transparency that would win back that trust. “Once Catholics know how the deal is structured, what’s been given away and what’s been maintained,” Allen wrote, “they might be more inclined to withhold judgment until they see how it works out on the ground.”

L’Espresso writer Sandro Magister argued that, in Vatican-China relations, Beijing was “calling the shots”. He pointed out that the Chinese authorities had selected which of its bishops would attend the youth synod – previously, popes had chosen delegates themselves, though these bishops were denied permission to go. Magister also cited the case of a 56-year-old underground bishop being forced to “step aside” for his “official” counterpart. “Here, too, is confirmation of how the Chinese regime finds itself at an advantage,” he wrote.

Michael Sainsbury, at La Croix, said a downside of the dialogue was Vatican silence on Chinese repression. Francis has drawn attention to the Rohingyas’ plight, he noted, yet has not spoken up for the million or so Muslim Uighurs in Chinese re-education camps –

“another great human tragedy in Asia”.

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