In a move that breaks with centuries of Catholic tradition, the Vatican under Pope Francis has reportedly forced two duly appointed Chinese bishops to make way for those unilaterally imposed by the Chinese regime. The move is the latest in a series of concessions Pope Francis has made in recent years to seek resumption of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Chinese regime, which has always rejected the Pope’s authority to appoint Catholic bishops in mainland China.
According to Asia News, a Vatican delegation to China was sent in December of last year to force Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou to “retire” or be demoted so that the Chinese regime could install its own bishops who come from regime-sanctioned churches.
The Vatican and the People’s Republic of China have had no diplomatic relations since 1951, as the Chinese Communist Party has insisted from the very beginning of its rule that all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in mainland China should be appointed by itself so that the regime may maintain control of the church. A regime-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) was created to supposedly represent Catholics in China.
The Vatican under all previous popes has rejected such an arrangement and refused to recognize bishops unilaterally “appointed” by the CPCA. The power to appoint bishops, known as “Investiture”, has been considered to be at the core of the Catholic Church’s teachings.
Outside of CPCA control, a defiant network of underground Catholic “house churches” still exist in China, whose followers were represented by Chinese bishops legitimately ordained by the Vatican, such as Zhuang and Guo.
The 88-year-old Bishop Zhuang reportedly burst into tears on hearing the order from Vatican, he also rejected the “offer” to accept a demotion into a priest to serve under his replacement, CPCA Bishop Huang Bingzhang, since Huang could simply remove him at any later time.
In addition to being a CPCA Bishop, Huang is also a member of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese regime’s rubber stamp parliament.
Pope Francis’ Vatican previously demanded Zhuang’s retirement in a letter dated Oct. 26, of which Zhuang replied that he would rather “carry his cross” for disobeying the Vatican’s order, according to Asia News.
The Vatican delegation also traveled to Fujian Province where they asked Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin of Mindong, who belongs to the underground Catholic church, to “accept” a demotion so that CPCA-backed Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu can take his place. Previously, Guo had gone missing for some time last year after the Chinese regime forced him to “visit” a religious affairs bureau in the city of Fuan.
“It’s a shame for the Vatican politicians to put their political interests above the church’s by kowtowing to Communist Beijing,” said Bob Fu, founder of ChinaAid, a Christian NGO based in Midland, Texas. “This action constitutes a true betrayal both of Christian principle and of the ongoing persecuted faithful in China. I hope the Pope Francis can intervene and correct course before the damage is too huge to remedy.”
Appeases Chinese Regime at Any Cost
The Epoch Times’ repeated phone calls to the Vatican’s Press Office to request for comment have not been answered. The news of the forced exile of two bishops by the Vatican however has been confirmed by Cardinal Joseph Zen, the respected former bishop of Hong Kong who retired in 2009 and who in recent years has become a vocal voice in questioning Pope Francis’ various overtures to the Chinese regime.
Just this week, the 86-year-old Joseph Zen reportedly visited the Vatican on Wednesday, Jan. 23 and lined up with other petitioners in the cold in Saint Peter’s Square to personally deliver a letter to Pope Francis. He was not given the privilege of an express access to the Pope that is traditionally offered to retired cardinals at his level. The letter contains an appeal for Pope Francis to pay attention to the desperate plight of the underground Catholic churches in China.
The Vatican under Pope Francis however has clearly set its course for a rapprochement with the Chinese regime at any cost. Numerous overtures to the Chinese regime have been made ever since Pope Francis was elected in 2013, such as a Papal flight over China in 2014, and an announcement in February 2017 that an “agreement” over the issue of bishop appointment had been reached with Beijing, among other events.
The Epoch Times also reported last October that a senior archbishop known for his strong opposition to the Chinese regime has been removed from a key post in the Vatican by Pope Francis.
Pope Francis’s approach to the Chinese regime also marks a sharp contrast with many of his predecessors. For instance, John Paul II is known as the pope who inspired the fall of communism in his native Poland. While various Popes before Francis have attempted to restart the Vatican’s relations with China, none has crossed the line of accepting the Chinese regime depriving the Vatican of its power of Investiture.
The issue of the appointment of bishops is not the only thing that stands between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China. The fate of the network of underground Catholic churches in China, which have an estimated 5-10 million members, has yet to be resolved, even though their bishops have now been abandoned by the Vatican. Underground Catholics complain of the Chinese regime having arrested hundreds of priests and bishops and having destroyed their churches.
A Vatican deal with China also has to settle the issue of Taiwan, which it still has formal diplomatic relations with. Partially due to the Chinese regime’s non-recognition of the Vatican’s authority in China, Taiwan was able to maintain the sovereign state of the Holy See as one of its few remaining diplomatic allies that formally recognize the island nation—at least until now.
Observers often speculated that the Vatican would abandon its relations with Taiwan to secure a deal with the Chinese regime on the other side of the strait, an act that would be seen not just as a betrayal of Taiwan but also the 240,000-strong Taiwanese Catholics, who unlike their Chinese counterparts have been allowed to practice their religion freely there and follow the Vatican’s authority.