The release of 400 pages of internal Chinese government documents obtained by the New York Times revealing the mass detention, torture, and reeducation of as many as one million predominantly Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region should give pause to Pope Francis and some of his top Vatican officials, who have spent the past few years praising the communist state. Claiming that “My dream is China,” Pope Francis lauded the positive relationships he has enjoyed with the leaders of communist China.
For those incarcerated in the detention camps, it is a very bad dream. But Archbishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told an interviewer just last year that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” Citing China’s “concern for the environment and human dignity,” Sorondo claimed that when he visited the country earlier in the year, “What I found was an extraordinary China. What people don’t realize is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St. Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.… You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs.” Instead, there is a “positive national conscience.”
Suggesting that “China is developing well,” Sorondo dismissed any concerns about China — claiming that “you cannot think that the China of today is the China of the time of John Paul II, or Cold War Russia.” Sorondo concluded that China now has “many points of agreement” with the Vatican.
At least one Vatican official, concerned about what he called Sorondo’s “adulation” of Chinese culture, published an editorial with the headline “Sánchez Sorondo in Wonderland.” Claiming that Sorondo’s praise of the totalitarian dictatorship in China “makes a laughingstock of the Church,” Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, head of the Asia News Agency, called the archbishop naïve.
But, Sorondo is not alone in his naïveté. Pope Francis himself has gone out of his way to accommodate China’s demands to regularize the communist state-sponsored Catholic Church (the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association) that is beholden to the state and not to Rome. For decades, there was a schism in China between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the underground Church that was in full communion with Rome. Pope Francis developed a way to unify the two ecclesiastic communities, although the details of the “unification” remain unclear.
Refusing to acknowledge concerns about the continued marginalization and imprisonment of underground Catholics — including priests and bishops — Pope Francis claimed that the Sino-Vatican agreement he signed in September 2018 with representatives of the communist government “united” Catholics. In the agreement, Pope Francis regularized the status of seven of China’s “Patriotic Association” bishops who had been ordained by the communist government, marking the first time since the 1950s that all Catholic bishops in China were in “full communion” with the pope.
Unfortunately, the agreement has not ended the arrest and imprisonment of underground Catholic priests and bishops, and the continued persecution of Catholics. But Pope Francis continues to claim that China is united now, telling a journalist, “The other day two Chinese bishops came to me, one who came from the underground church and the other from the patriotic church, already recognized as brothers…. they know that they must be good patriots and that they must take care of the Catholic flock.” During the previous month, Chinese government officials detained Fr. Peter Zhang Guangjun, an underground priest, after Palm Sunday Mass. Fr. Guangjun was the third underground priest to be detained by the communist government during April 2019. On June 8, 2019, Monsignor Stefano Li Side, the underground bishop of Tianjin, died in captivity. The bishop had refused to be a part of the communist-sanctioned Church and had been exiled to a mountain village under house arrest along with a coadjutor underground bishop, Monsignor Melchiorre Shi Hongzhen, 92, who remains under house arrest.
While it is clear that his intentions are for unification, Pope Francis has had little to say about the persecution of priests and bishops in China and the brutal history of the formation of the government-created Patriotic Catholic Association to control the Catholic Church under communist dictator Mao Zedong back in the 1950s. Following the formation of the Patriotic Association Church, Bishop Li was arrested in 1958 and sentenced to forced labor camps. Although he was released in 1962, he was again arrested and imprisoned again in 1963 until 1980 — again assigned to forced labor camps.
As Assumption College philosophy professor Daniel Mahoney points out in his recent book, The Idol of Our Age, Pope Francis has always been “rather indulgent” towards despotic regimes that appear to speak in the name of the poor. In an interview with Catholic World Report, Mahoney suggests that Pope Francis, in contrast to his two papal predecessors,
learned nothing or next to nothing from humanity’s experience with ideological tyranny in the twentieth century.… He seems to have admired Fidel Castro, was slow to face the truth about the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and never emphasizes or repeats the Church’s condemnation of socialism and totalitarian collectivism. He seems to have confidence that the atheistic Communist Party of China can run the Catholic Church in that still authoritarian country.
The recent revelations published in the New York Times show clearly that the Communist Party in China is as ruthless as it has ever been. But unlike Pope Francis, who has stayed silent on the revelations of the totalitarian brainwashing, bizarre lies, and industrial level indoctrination that has been occurring in the communist country, the editorial board of the Times courageously decries “the paranoia of totalitarian leaders who demand total fealty in thought and deed and recognize no method of control other than coercion and fear.”
Faithful Catholics in China have faced persecution for decades now. Last week, Chinese Bishop John Fang Xingyao told those gathered at a Communist Party–sponsored meeting in Beijing, “Love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.” Bishop Fang is head of the Diocese of Linyi, on the east coast of China — and president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
The Catholic News Agency reports that since 2013 crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 churches, both Catholic and Protestant, as part of an effort to Sinicize Christianity. When the Chinese authorities demolished a Catholic church last month, it was reported that Chinese officials claimed that “the Vatican was on our side” and would support them tearing down the churches. If it is true that Pope Francis has taken the side of the communist state–sponsored Church during his much-heralded “Year of Mercy,” the Catholic Church is in bigger trouble than any of us realized.