Special Relationships: China and Vatican City

On the occasion of the XI Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops Synod in Vatican City, an old diplomatic problem kept in the garret, it was carried out: the special relationships between China and Vatican City.

Then, a few days after the official closure of the Holy Synod, the head of the Vatican Diplomacy, Cardinal Angelo Sodano gave a speech in the Gregorian University in occasion of the opening ceremony of a Library in the name of “Matteo Ricci” (the first catholic missionary in China) and he said that the Vatican is ready to reconnect the relations with the Chinese Popular Republic.

Actually there are not so many documents because usually the dialogues are unofficial. My sources will be websites of more newspapers, the website of the Vatican City, and some special search from some institute.

Vatican and China are like two “parallel railroads” and one cannot cross the other one.

Brother Matteo Ricci, the first missionary in China (1592), established good relationships between the two states and not only: the catholic religion was admitted and everyone could profess the religion in the way they appreciated more; the catholic religion became also important in the Emperor Council.  But after two centuries (1747), the Church of Rome sentenced the Chinese rites: they are heathen rites not holy. This was the first breaking due to religious causes but people could continue to believe in Catholic Religion.

After other two centuries, Pope Pius XII (1939) tried to reconnect the diplomatic relationships between China and Vatican but China was changing page. In these years China is politically close to Russia and received a lot of money from Moscow for establish the Communism in this region and for the fight against Japan and Capitalistic powers.

Therefore, a civil war involved China: Nationalistics lead by Chiang Kai-shek against Communists lead by Mao Zedong.

The winning was the Communist force and Chiang Kai-shek was obliged to take refuge in Taiwan island (1949). Hence, two states were created: Chinese Popular Republic (Continental China) and Republic of China (Taiwan).

The Republic of Taiwan was always supported from the USA and whole the western Countries who were against the Communism Force. For example, when United Nations was founded, Republic of China seated in the Security Council instead of Chinese Popular Republic. In 1971, it was replaced by the Popular Republic in the Security Council and also in the General Assembly.

The Church of Rome considers as principal interlocutor Taiwan Republic because the Nunciature was transferred in the island. Different States are interested to build or to reconnect this special relations. It looks like a challenge between the bigger Country in the world and the oldest institution of the world.

Actually there is the “Patriotic Catholic Church” officially accepted by the Authority and there is the “Secret Catholic Church” or “Underground” faithful to Rome. The former is completely influenced from the Government. It can control whole the activities and forbid others. The latter is a secret organization but the Government knows about it. But in the last period, both Catholic Associations are claimed the same question: liberty of cult.

The Bishops are chosen by the Chinese government and not by the Vatican. This is an important claim of the Holy See.

The last desire of Pope John Paul II was a travel to China but it was impossible. A period of time before his death, John Paul II gave a speech in the Gregorian University for the four hundredth anniversary of “Matteo Ricci” mission. In this occasion, the Pope spoke more about the contact between China and Vatican: “China and Catholic Church are different subjects but not opposite. If we would surpass misunderstanding, we could work together for Chinese people and for Peace in the World”.

This speech represented the wish to open a dialogue with the opposite part. But Chinese Government did not want to.

In February 2003 Hong Kong press, announced that Chinese Government and Vatican “were having informal dialogues with the purpose to improve their own relations”. This was not true.  They were working to assure that the government, and not the bishops, have full control over the Chinese church and will keep it independent from the Holy See. Then, the Bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, declared that “the Government is nervous and repression is harder then usual. We can make up a rule: when some news about the approaching of Vatican and China are announced, it means a new wave of repression is going to start. The same happened in 1999.”

For this reason Chinese Bishops ask to the Vatican to proceed with prudence because every false step means new repressions from the government.

Bernando Cervellera, ex director of “FIDES” the Vatican International Agency of Information wrote book that Chinese Government has the interest to establish relationship: it is a developing Country, modernized and it can not have a blot in his “Pedigree”.

In  China there were three big campaigns of extermination:

1949-1058: Eliminated political opposite part (Nationalistic);1959-1062: Government destroyed a big part of public cultivation in some areas;1966-1976: After Mao-Zedong death for the “Big Proletarian Revolution”.

According to the “History of the Church” search about 150.000.000 of people died between 1949 and 1976. The majority of them died for religious reasons. Beijing confirms that there are two obstacles for the openness: Vatican “has to interrupt every kind of relation with Taiwan”;

From the Holy See side, the moving out from Taiwan is not a problem. If we look at the history we can see that the Vatican unwilling accepted in 1952 the transfer of diplomatic Nunciature. Nuncio chose Taipei because he was expelled from Popular China. Then in 1972 Vatican decided to send to Taipei no Nuncios but “chargé d’affaires”. Popular China did not catch this signal.

Still in 1999 Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of Vatican state, declared the main interest of Holy diplomacy: “The Holy See is ready to transfer the Nunciature from Taipei to Beijing and tomorrow, or rather, this very night.”

Vatican diplomacy always emphasize that it will not break the relations with Taiwan but “bring the Nunciature back” to his original and natural place. Vatican “has not to involve in internal Chinese affairs also religious affairs.”

This means also the prohibition to the Vatican to name the Bishops. That allows Popular Government to have influence in the Catholic Community, to check events and to calm down the dissatisfaction of people.

During the past 15 years, the large majority of official Chinese bishops (assigned by the government without approval of Rome) have asked the Pope to recognize them as bishops. Their applications were made without agreement of Chinese authorities. The Holy See has by now already recognized the large majority of them. In recent years the Holy See has left the underground bishops free to accept the invitation of Chinese civil authorities, who have encouraged them to become official (patriotic) bishops. The decision has been left to the bishops, even though the Vatican has not hidden the fact that it is favour of acceptance.

From the other hand, the Holy See claims two important and real requirements:

  • Bishops of China must be responsible in charge of Holy See in front of the Government, abolishing or reducing any pretension of control from the Patriotic Association;
  • The Bishops have to be named from the Holy See instead of the Chinese Government.

This special claim is to support and to defend the Church principle Libertas Ecclesiae to perform the Holy Mission but also in defending of inalienable liberty of conscience of every man.

China does not want to accept to loosing the power to control Church movements trough Patriotic Association and to renounce to choose Bishops, it means forsake the pretension to rule the spiritual life of Chinese people. The question of the Bishops is an open fight.

In an interview, Jesuit father Waldenfels ask to go over the simple image of Chinese Church divided into two parts even because actually, clandestinely is a term outdated. In China there are 12 million of Catholic with 74 official Bishops or patriotic Bishops and 46 clandestine. The patriotic Bishops are, more or less, whole recognised from the Holy See (about ten Bishops are waiting for the recognition). Actually, before to be ordained, Bishops of official Community try to obtain the appointment from the Holy See. But, according to the Jesuit father Waldensfels, new problems are more close then usual for the Secret Community. The most important problem, actually, is on the Bishops working in secret and for their believers. One solution could be that Rome “renounces to give a succession to the line considered unofficial from the Government point of view and because for the official church they are arriving to a point of compromise. But it’s very soon to talk about this”.

How can a big Country as China be afraid of a little City-State as Vatican?

All reflectors are focused on China that was absent to John Paul II funeral. In this occasion Liu Jianchao, ministry of foreign affaires, speaking to the press about Pope death, he expressed “condolence” from the China Popular Republic for the death of a man who apologised for every mistake committed in the past by some men from the Catholic Church against Chinese People. He declares also that religious ties between Holy See and Chinese Catholic believer must not damage the Unity of Chinese Nation and must not weaken the Independence and the Sovereignty of the Country. In this speech we can read the fear of Chinese Government for every action of the Vatican. Maybe, they are afraid that Church of Rome could shake the basis of the Popular Regime. This fear pushes the Chinese Government to an ideological closure to this “Spectre” that, through Pope John Paul II, quickened the collapse of Communism in the Eastern Europe.

Today there is not one Chinese bishop who is against the Holy See. Should Catholics in the United States, in Europe, as well as in Taiwan and in China not encourage all Chinese Catholics to meet with each other and pray together, celebrate Mass in any of their churches without any distinction?

When China will respect entirely the religious freedom at that time China will entry in a kind of modernity under the Human service.

Here is the question: will Popular Republic of China reconcile with Vatican State without necessity to kill people or to put catholic believer in prisons or in forced work camp?

We will see.


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