Pope Francis has surrendered partial control of the Chinese Catholic Church to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). His Holiness agreed to grant the Party considerable authority over personnel matters. After decades of refusing to give China the right to appoint Catholic bishops, as a condition for normalization of relations, the Vatican finally conceded to the regime’s demand to allow the CCP a decisive role in the selection of bishops to head Catholic dioceses.
The Vatican’s concession came despite the CCP’s continued persecution of the unofficial, independent, underground Catholic Church in China. Yet the Vatican probably does not view this as a defeat but rather as a means to an end. The diplomatic hierarchy of the Catholic Church may be confident that the truth of its spiritual message will endure long after the CCP dissolves into the same historical trash bin as other totalitarian ideologies have done.
The Church’s consenting to fold its independent political posture into the Chinese regime’s Communist Party apparatus gives Beijing the authority to appoint bishops politically acceptable to the CCP. In granting China this right, the Vatican implicitly is recognizing the legitimacy of the regime’s CCP instrument to infiltrate and control Roman Catholicism in China, which is the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
Pope Francis has also reinstated several pro-regime bishops whom the Vatican had once excommunicated because they willingly agreed to follow Communist China’s directives, while forsaking their loyalty to the Church in Rome. Finally, the Holy See’s bureaucracy also accepted Beijing’s demand to reduce and restructure the Catholic Church’s 137 dioceses across China.