A deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of Catholic bishops in the country is not “a side element of some diplomatic strategy.”
This was the statement of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Pro-Prefect for the Section of Evangelization of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization, in an interview with Fides news agency in the weekend.
“The Holy See has always reiterated the circumscribed nature of the agreement, which also touches a vital issue for the Church,” said the cardinal.
He added that “any consideration that ignores or obscures this singular physiognomy of the agreement, ends up giving it a false representation.”
The Vatican announced on Saturday, October 22, that it has renewed its 2018 deal with China on the appointment of Catholic bishops for an additional two years.
“After appropriate consultation and assessment, the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to extend for another two years the Provisional Agreement regarding the appointment of Bishops,” said the Vatican in a press release.
It said that the Vatican “is committed to continuing a respectful and constructive dialogue with the Chinese Party for a productive implementation of the Accord and further development of bilateral relations, with a view to fostering the mission of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people.”
Cardinal Tagle said in the Fides interview that the agreement ensures that Chinese Catholic bishops “can exercise their episcopal task in full communion with the pope.”
“The reason for everything is to safeguard the valid apostolic succession and the sacramental nature of the Catholic Church in China,” he said, adding that the deal “can reassure, comfort, and enliven baptized Catholics in China.”
The agreement was first signed in September 2018 and was renewed for another two years in October 2020.
Cardinal Tagle said there were historical events in China that “had led to painful wounds within the Church, to the point of casting a shadow of suspicion on the sacramental life itself.”
“So there were things at stake that touch the intimate nature of the Church and her mission of salvation,” he said.
Since 2018, six bishops have been ordained under the procedures set out in the deal, which terms have not been made public.
Cardinal Tagle said the agreement kept “channels and spaces for dialogue” opened between the two parties, adding that “this is already relevant in itself, in the given situation.”
“The Holy See, listening to the Chinese government and also to bishops, priests, religious, and laity, becomes more aware of this reality, where fidelity to the pope has been preserved even in difficult times and contexts, as an intrinsic datum of ecclesial communion,” he said.
The Filipino cardinal said the dialogue with the Chinese government led the Church “to take into account the contexts and the mindset” of its counterpart.
“We discover that things that are absolutely clear and almost obvious to us can be new and unknown to them,” he said.
“For us, this also represents a challenge to find new words, new persuasive and familiar examples for their sensitivity, to help them understand more easily what we really care about,” said Cardinal Tagle.
The controversial deal drew criticisms amid cases of removal of crosses, the demolition of churches, and attacks on underground Catholics and clergy even after the deal came into effect.
The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in its 2020 report that Chinese Catholic suffered “increasing persecution” after the agreement was made.
Cardinal Tagle said the Vatican is not in the illusion that the agreement will solve all the problems of the Catholics in China.
“It has always been perceived and affirmed that the path is long, it can be tiring, and that the agreement itself could cause misunderstandings and disorientation,” he said.
The prelate said the Vatican “does not ignore and does not even minimize the differences of reactions among Chinese Catholics” with regards to the controversial agreement.
“It is part of the process. But one always has to dirty one’s hands with the reality of things as they are,” he said.