The recent Sino-Vatican agreement regarding the status of validly ordained Catholic bishops in China and the status of bishops invalidly ordained without a papal mandate is a great cause for concern for Catholics throughout the world.

The preliminary agreement between the Holy See and the Communist government of the Peoples Republic of China essentially validates the episcopal ordinations of dozens of bishops sponsored by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association which is endorsed by the Chinese government. Pope Francis himself has publicly indicated that he himself is responsible for the agreement which he maintains is a pastoral decision and not one motivated by politics.

While the explanation of Pope Francis offers a minimal explanation of his reasons, there are still many other issues that need resolution in the Chinese Catholic Church. One of the issues that demands further examination is the status of validly appointed and ordained bishops, appointed by Rome to minister within China. The preliminary agreement makes no real considerations for the free exercise of the Catholic faith in China for either clergy or the faithful. The lack of determination on the part of the Holy See and Pope Francis himself to insist that only bishops ordained and with a valid papal mandate minister in China suggests there is a de facto recognition of the Communist Party’s Catholic bishops despite their illicit and invalid episcopal Holy Orders. Such recognition by Pope Francis clearly jeopardizes both the validly ordained Catholic clergy and all Catholics in China as the state sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association consolidates spiritual and political power because of the Vatican’s concessions.

While the agreement is only in the preliminary stages of acceptance, there are no public revelations that would permit Chinese Catholic the freedom to exercise their faith and no guarantees against religious persecution are contained in the details as revealed by the Holy See. The lack of any real promises on the part of the Communist Chinese government should be considered as a real issue and problem regarding the ratification of this agreement. Catholicism has been an unrecognized faith in Communist China since 1951.

Negotiations between the Catholic Church and the Peoples Republic of China hinge on the points of a greater dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese with the stipulation that Beijing have a greater role in the appointment of new bishops in the country and Vatican recognition of the state sponsored bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The Vatican has agreed to these points at this time.

Such an agreement on the part of the Holy See, endorsed by Pope Francis on the surface appears that the Church is abrogating too much to the Chinese government. For one thing, the Church does not offer a solution to the matter of illicit and invalid ordinations of Chinese bishops and the agreement does not publicly consider this point. Secondly, there is no assurance that the seriously persecuted Catholic Church in China will have any reprieve from future persecutions. The lack of assurances on this point, seriously indicates that the Holy See is clearly negotiating from a powerless point about the real intentions of the Peoples Republic of China. The papal approbation of China’s demands is no cause for celebration from either a spiritual perspective nor one of effective diplomacy. It appears that the Holy See has received no assurances from the Chinese government while the Catholic Church has recognized illicit and invalidly ordained bishops. Clearly, the quid pro quo of this diplomatic mission is flawed and erroneous.

Another unfortunate point needs recognition as well. It is reported that former Cardinal Mc Carrick may have participated in these negotiations between the Holy See and the Chinese government. While, McCarrick’s diplomatic credentials are not known, it would only seem appropriate that competent diplomatic experts at the Vatican should closely investigate McCarrick’s degree of participation in this poorly executed agreement between Rome and China.

Pope Francis should not interfere with the activities of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which has been training clergy for the Church’s diplomatic corps since 1701. However, the Catholic Church has had diplomatic representatives since A.D. 325 when Pope Sylvester I sent legates to represent him at the First Council of Nicaea. Despite the well-intended pastoral intentions of Pope Francis his diplomatic abilities with Communist China has produced very little results that favor the security of Catholicism within mainland China, while the Holy See has given the Communist Chinese party considerably more power over the future of the Catholic faith within their borders.

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