Pope Francis has defended the Vatican deal with China’s communist government on the appointment of Catholic bishops, saying an uneasy dialogue is better than no dialogue at all.
In an interview with Spanish radio network COPE broadcast on Wednesday, Pope Francis compared the Vatican’s dialogue with China to those with East European countries during the Cold War which eventually resulted in many freedoms for the Church there.
“China is not easy, but I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue,” he said in some of his most comprehensive comments to date on the issue.
Last September, the Vatican renewed a 2018 accord with Beijing that gives the pope final say over the appointment of Chinese bishops. The deal established a formal dialogue with Beijing after decades during which Chinese Catholics faithful to the pope were driven underground.
Critics, including the administration of former US president Donald Trump, tried to convince the Vatican to abandon the pact, saying it compromised the pope’s moral authority.
Comments by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last September, which the Vatican saw as meddling in its sovereign affairs, sparked a minor diplomatic crisis.
“You can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that … but it is the way. Closed-mindedness is never the way,” the pope said of the China deal, which has been particularly opposed by conservative Catholic groups.
“What has been achieved so far in China was at least dialogue … some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly … but these are also steps that can be questionable,” he said.
Pope Francis likened relations with Beijing to the “small steps” policy carried out by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, a renowned Vatican diplomat, with Soviet Bloc countries in Eastern Europe, starting in the 1960s.
Cardinal Casaroli, who served under three popes, reached agreements with communist countries that gave the Church some breathing space, sowing the seeds for full relations after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Those deals were also criticized.
“Slowly, slowly, slowly, he (Casaroli) was achieving reserves of diplomatic relations which in the end meant appointing new bishops and taking care of God’s faithful people,” Pope Francis said.