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Vatican’s secret meeting in Beijing

HONG KONG (SE): The unpublished meeting between a delegation from the Vatican and representatives from the Chinese government that took place in Beijing on October 11, is being seen as a sign that negotiations are moving forward, as Pope Francis commented on his return flight to Rome from the United States of America on September 27.

While the makeup of the Vatican delegation is not known, a press release from the Verbiest Institute in Leuven, Belgium, claims it had six members, but says nothing is known about the Chinese government side.

Taking place under the cover of the Synod on Family Life at the Vatican, which was stealing Church headlines at the time, the Verbiest Institute says it appears that kindly statements were made on both sides of the fence and it had probably been agreed that prickly issues were off the agenda.

It appears to have been understood that issues involving the ongoing confinement of bishops and priests would not be discussed and nor would the status of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has been under house arrest in Shanghai since his ordination in 2012.

Also presumed to be on the banned list is the status of bishops that the Vatican has announced can be considered as being excommunicated.

However, the Verbiest Institute says that the post-meeting activities of the Vatican delegation possibly point to the direction that the Church is taking in its negotiations with Beijing.

It says that the rumour circuit began suggesting during July that a delegation would go to Beijing sometime in September or October and it is presumed that if there was no realistic hope of achieving some progress, the visit would not have been considered.

It reports that on October 14, the Vatican delegation paid a visit to the bishop of Beijing, Bishop Joseph Li Shan, which is taken as a positive sign that the meeting had been at least amicable.

Although Bishop Li has a papal mandate as a bishop, he has taken part in an illicit ordination of a bishop in the past.

On the following day, the delegation visited the National Seminary in Beijing and was welcomed by the rector, Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, who does not have papal recognition and was ordained illicitly in Kunming back in 2006.

Bishop Ma is also the president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, a body whose validity is not recognised by the Vatican and is widely regarded as a rogue body and a rubber stamp for government policies regarding the Church.

The Verbiest Institute says that while neither visit was publicised, both were open and other priests witnessed the events.

The Verbiest Institute quotes one priest as saying, “The Chinese civil authorities would never have allowed these visits to be made if the negotiations did not go in a positive direction.”

It continues quoting him as saying, “An official Vatican delegation would never even accept to visit the National Seminary, which is directed by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (a government body) and to meet with an illicit bishop, if it had no plan in mind for a positive solution to the illegal situation wherein their hosts find themselves.”

Bishop Ma, together with the two vice presidents of the bishops’ conference, Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting and Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, were in the United States of America at the same time as the visit of Pope Francis in September.

UCAN reported that they asked a senior American bishop to present a bible to Pope Francis on their behalf, bearing a message saying, “We love you, we pray for you, we wait for you in China.” It was signed by the three bishops.

Although Bishop Yang was ordained with approval from the Vatican, his involvement with a bishops’ conference, which is not recognised by the Vatican or many others within the Church in China, is viewed as being problematic.

There has been no official announcement from either the Vatican or Beijing about the meeting. Possibly final details of what was discussed or agreed upon have not yet been completed, and possibly there will be no announcement at all. It constitutes the second round of meetings since June 2014.

While little can be expected to evolve from the meeting, the two visits made by a Vatican delegation may mean that the bishops’ conference is in their sights and may signal the beginning of a new negotiation on that level.

Nevertheless, it does serve to validate Pope Francis’ comment that things are moving forward.

However, not all share the same optimism.

“I doubt if Chinese President Xi Jinping has the courage to treat the Catholic Church sincerely,” an active blogger in China, who identified himself only as Thomas, told UCAN.

“China-Vatican relations will not get heated up just because of the upcoming presidential election in Taiwan, or the passion of Pope Francis on China,” he continued.

“It rests entirely on the sincerity, pragmatism, understanding and transformation of Xi’s government for a new turn on China-Vatican relations. Without such changes, we are going to see the same negotiations continue without anything materialising, as in the past three decades.”


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