Top officials from China and the Vatican held a bilateral meeting in Germany, in what is believed to be the highest-level official encounter between the two sides in decades.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states of the Holy See, met with Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Affairs minister, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 14, said a Vatican statement.
“During the discussion, which took place in a cordial atmosphere, the contacts between the two parties, which have developed positively over time, were evoked,” said the statement.
“In particular, the importance of the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, signed on Sept. 22, 2018 was highlighted, also reiterating the wish to continue bilateral institutional dialogue to promote the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people,” it said.
“Appreciation was expressed for the efforts that are being made to control the coronavirus epidemic, along with solidarity with the afflicted population.
“Finally, the hope was expressed for greater international cooperation in order to promote civil co-existence and peace in the world, and considerations were exchanged on intercultural dialogue and human rights.”
Catholics in China are emerging from more than half a century of division, which saw them split between a state-backed “official” Church and a “non-official” underground Church that remained loyal to Rome.
Many see the 2018 deal on the naming of bishops as a precursor to re-establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing after a rupture of more than 70 years.
If they resume full relations, the Vatican would have to break full relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province. The Vatican is the only state in Europe to still recognize Taipei.
Both sides now recognize the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
Last month, Pope Francis praised what he called China’s “great commitment” to contain the coronavirus outbreak and later the Vatican’s charity arm sent hundreds of thousands of medical masks to China as a goodwill gesture.
Conservative Catholics have objected to the pact, accusing the Vatican of having sold out to the communist government.
The Vatican-China deal’s most outspoken critic has been Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former archbishop of Hong Kong. The Vatican says no deal would have risked causing a schism.
On the eve of the side-line Munich meeting, Cardinal Zen was presented a U.S. pro-democracy prize for his advocacy of human rights and religious freedom, reported Crux. The 87-year-old cardinal was given the Wei Jingsheng Chinese Democracy Champion Prize by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House.
While in the United States, Cardinal Zen gave several interviews with Catholic media, where he criticized the deal plus the Vatican’s top diplomat Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
“So [in this deal] the Vatican lost everything and got nothing. I cannot understand why they would do such thing,” Cardinal Zen told CNA.
“I’m sure that the pope has the good intention to gain some space, some breathing space, and maybe one day you can get something better. Okay. But Parolin, the secretary of state, he knows very well who the communists are: there’s no way to bargain with the communists, you get nothing,” he said.
Cardinal Zen said that the Vatican gives no help to Catholics in China.
Cardinal Zen was also rewarded the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in January of last year.