06 February 2018, The Tablet

Beijing praises ‘wisdom’ of Pope Francis

'It is expected he [Pope Francis] will push China-Vatican ties forward and solve related problems with his wisdom'

Beijing praises ‘wisdom’ of Pope Francis

A state-run Chinese newspaper says the Vatican and Beijing will re-establish diplomatic ties “sooner or later” and that any problems related to a deal will be solved by the “wisdom” of Pope Francis.

The editorial in the widely read Global Times tabloid comes after reports that a framework agreement between the Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops is ready to be signed. This would be a major breakthrough in the 70-year attempt by the Vatican to normalise the situation for Chinese Catholics and restore diplomatic relations with Beijing.   

Vatican sources said last week a deal has been prepared that would see the lifting of excommunications of seven bishops ordained without Holy See permission for the state-controlled arm of the church. 

In a further sign that rapprochement is being forced ahead rapidly, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, gave an extraordinarily laudatory interview in which he described China as the country “best implementing the social doctrine of the Church”. In words that will delight the communist Government he told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

“The economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States,” he said, before praising Beijing for embracing environmental policies advocated in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’. He said Beijing was defending the Paris Climate Accord and “in that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”. He went on to accuse US President Donald Trump of being “manipulated” by global oil firms, and said that, as opposed to those who follow “liberal thought”, the Chinese are working for the greater good of the planet.

China’s Catholics are split between those part of the communist run Patriotic Catholic Association, and the underground communities that are loyal to Rome. It is widely understood that a agreement between the Vatican and Beijing would see a recognition of the state-ordained bishops in exchange for the Holy See being able to appoint future bishops. But it is also highly likely that Chinese authorities will retain some power over the appointment process.  

Prominent Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen said last week that the direction of travel by the Vatican was a “selling out” of Catholics in China and has said it is impossible to do a deal with Beijing. He also suggested the Pope’s aides were acting independently of Francis in their eagerness to do a deal - something the Vatican strongly denies. 

Beijing has so far said very little about the talks. But the editorial in the Global Times, which is run by the People’s Daily newspaper, is headlined “China-Vatican relations take clearer shape” and points out that the Holy See had reached an agreement on bishop appointments recently with Vietnam, another communist country. A deal, it says, would be “greatly beneficial” to Catholics and that the Chinese public respects the Pope. 

“Beijing and the Vatican will establish diplomatic relations sooner or later,” the editorial states. “We believe Beijing's diplomats can manage the negotiations well, taking account of the national interest and the religious beliefs of Catholics.” 

It goes on: “Pope Francis has a positive image with the Chinese public. It is expected he will push China-Vatican ties forward and solve related problems with his wisdom.” 

PICTURE: Chinese pilgrims visit Rome ©PA 

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