A top cardinal has said “many questions” remain despite the Vatican’s diplomatic thaw with China, and that a deal paving the way to rapprochement was “only a starting point”.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s remarks — in an interview with China’s state-run Global Times, published Monday — follow the signing in September last year of a historic bilateral agreement on the thorny issue of the appointment of bishops.

That deal came after decades of mistrust between Beijing and the Vatican.

Vatican City St Peters Square
The Holy See. Photo: Diliff via Wikicommons.

China’s estimated 10 million Catholics are split between an underground church that swears allegiance only to the pope and a state-supervised body — the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The September agreement allowed both sides to have a say on the appointment of bishops, and paved the way for a rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing, which broke diplomatic ties in 1951.

Parolin — the Vatican’s number two — called the deal “a starting point” and that there were “elements which demonstrate an increased trust between the two sides”.

“Many questions still need to be addressed and we are facing them with willingness and determination.”

l Pietro Parolin
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Photo: Russian Gov’t.

The Vatican’s deal with Beijing has divided Chinese Catholics.

Some see it as helpful in improving religious freedoms in China. But others are wary — including Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, who accused the Holy See of “selling the Church” to Beijing’s communist government.

“It’s no surprise that there are critics, within the Church, in China, or elsewhere, with this opening that may seem unprecedented after such a long period of confrontation,” said Parolin, a key player in the negotiations with Beijing.

The accord was forged despite a clampdown on religious worship in China, where churches were destroyed in some regions and several church-run kindergartens closed last year. Authorities have also cracked down on Bible sales.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping. File photo: Flickr/Creative Commons.

China’s officially atheist government has tightened its grip on all faiths in recent years, and measures have included requiring clergymen to undergo ideological training, according to local media reports.

Parolin said this push for the “Sinicization” of religion was not at odds with the Vatican as the Chinese leadership has reiterated its “willingness not to undermine the nature and the doctrine of each religion”.

China and the Vatican, he said, “have to journey together, because only in this way will we be able to heal the wounds and misunderstandings of the past”.

Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.

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