Print Version    Email to Friend
Sino-Vatican talks stagger but continue

HONG KONG (SE): A lengthy report published by Reuters on July 15 claims that there is progress being made in the behind-closed-doors meetings between representatives of the Chinese government and officials from the Vatican.

Saying that over two dozen Catholic officials and clergy from Hong Kong, Italy and the mainland were interviewed, the article proposes the possibility that a solution to China’s illicit bishops may be on the cards.

While the media has devoted much time to discussing the possibility of diplomatic relations being formed between Beijing and the Vatican, the Holy See press officer, Father Federico Lombardi, told Reuters, “The aim of the contacts between the Holy See and Chinese representatives is not primarily that of establishing diplomatic relations, but facilitating the life of the Church and contributing to making relations in ecclesial life normal and serene.”

On the sticky issue of bishops who have been ordained without a papal mandate, Reuters suggests that there may be a solution in sight.

The international news agency says that it was told one suggestion is that Pope Francis may issue a pardon and do the diplomatic thing by allowing them to keep their title while being assigned to other duties.

The article notes that since the Vatican does not consider these men fit to run a diocese, a change of job description could be one way out that predicament.

But the curliest problems are posed by the three whom the Vatican has declared to have incurred automatic (self-inflicted) excommunication and whose validity as a bishop has not been accepted by the Holy See.

Reuters says that it was told a further stumbling block lies in the fact that two of the eight have not tendered a letter seeking pardon from the pope.

The issue of the selection of bishops is also being addressed in the closed door meetings and the suggestion that has been around for some time of candidates being selected in China, but subject to the scrutiny of the pope, still seems to be the most probable way forward.

However, this route is also fraught with problems, as in cases where there is disagreement it puts the onus on the pope to prove to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities that the chosen candidate is unsuitable.

To date, no satisfactory way of addressing this conundrum has been agreed upon.

It is well known that since Pope Francis has been sitting in the Chair of St. Peter he has made several overtures of friendship towards the Chinese president and chairperson of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, most of which have been acknowledged in one way or another by state media.

However, Reuters says that a less well known overture came during the papal visit to the United States of America in September last year when the two leaders were at John F. Kennedy Airport at the same time.

It says that three Church officials confirmed that the airport authorities assured the papal entourage that a discrete meeting place could have been provided, but accounts as to why the two did not meet differ.

Clergy in China confirmed that an invitation was extended to Xi to meet with the pope at the airport and communicated clearly to the Chinese authorities.

A long time missionary in China said that he believes this could have been a matter of trust, as the top brass in  Beijing is bitterly divided on all matters regarding the Church and religion.

“There is an extremely hardline group within the top echelon that is clearly not prepared to move an inch on matters of religion,” he told the Sunday Examiner.

As Reuters notes, “Internally, there is division over whether the pope can be trusted or not.”

But Beijing is not the only party with divided opinions on the matter, as people within the Church in Hong Kong and other places have their reservations as well, but while the joint meetings may only be proceeding at a stagger, to date they have not fallen over.

Nevertheless, there is certainly a long way to go.

More from this section