Pope Francis is understood to be signing off renewal of the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement for another two-year period, despite international concerns over religious freedom in China and criticism that the deal has abandoned members of the country’s “underground” Church to the worst depredations of the Chinese Communist Party.
Reuters news agency quoted a senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, saying that, “what we have is better than no accord at all,” but “the path to diplomatic normalisation will be very, very long”.
Two weeks ago, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, expressed eagerness to renew and said China “will continue to maintain close communication and consultation and improve bilateral relations”. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, effectively said things were on track for an October renewal even as he acknowledged that the “first results were not particularly striking”.
Renewal comes at a time when the Chinese Government is exponentially intensifying repression of religion, including Catholics. Huge internment camps in Xinjiang for Muslim Uighurs and other minorities have been repeatedly condemned by human rights organisations. Beijing continues to imprison Catholic clergy who refuse to support the Communist Party, according to a new report from the province of Jiangxi.
Priests from Yujiang Diocese have been forbidden from “engaging in any religious activity in the capacity of clergy” after they refused to join the “Patriotic Church”, which is now bent, seemingly with Vatican approval, on controlling all Catholics. Its leaders are answerable to the CCP. In one of the most sinister but less noticed measures, religious education is banned for minors under the age of 18, facilitating indoctrination of the young by the CCP. A Chinese priest who did not want to be named told UCA News that the agreement brought “nothing good” to the Church in China and it has “only further divided and wounded it”.