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The Catholic Church, in her long and storied history, has lots of experience dealing with dictatorial powers that see her as a rival.
Throughout much of European history, bishops were a different class of wealthy noblemen. Rulers rightly saw bishops as potential threats. Many kings and princes attempted to control the ability to appoint the bishops within their rule. The response of the Church varied over time and place, but the essential lesson is that the Church should not, can not, cede her power to appoint bishops to the local authorities. When she does, it goes badly.
In our day, Pope Francis has been kowtowing and sucking up to the Chinese Communist Party, the dictatorial absolute power that grips its gasping billions in an unrelenting iron claw. This evil power hates the Catholic Church and everything it stands for: the absolute authority of the human conscience; the uniqueness and importance of each human being, equal in dignity and united in love; the existence of a supernatural power that has authority to judge us by a completely objective standard; the necessity of mercy; the possibility of repentance and forgiveness; the triumph of hope.
The CCP imprisons people of conscience and faith, including Bishop James Su Zhimin, who has been imprisoned for 40 years. The CCP has shown itself to disdain religious freedom and freedom of conscience, yet the Vatican chose in 2018 to sign an agreement with it that, at the time, horrified many who love the Church and pray for her Chinese brethren and all the Chinese people oppressed by the evil communists.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has an essay in the current issue of First Things, “China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Witness,” in which he states,
The human rights situation in China has deteriorated severely under the autocratic rule of Xi Jinping, especially for religious believers. Credible reports have exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s program of forced sterilizations and abortions of Muslims in Xinjiang, its abuse of Catholic priests and laypeople, and its assault on Protestant house churches—all of which are parts of a “Sinicization” campaign to subordinate God to the Party while promoting Xi himself as an ultramundane deity. Now more than ever, the Chinese people need the Vatican’s moral witness and authority in support of China’s religious believers.
Speaking about the 2018 agreement, Pompeo goes on to say,
Two years on, it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations, to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers. The State Department’s 2019 annual report on religious freedom provides an illustrative example in the story of Father Paul Zhang Guangjun, who was beaten and “disappeared” for refusing to join the CCP-run Patriotic Catholic Association. Sadly, his experience is not unique. Communist authorities continue to shutter churches, spy on and harass the faithful, and insist that the Party is the ultimate authority in religious affairs.
I like what Pompeo said at the end of his essay so much that I will close my own with it.
Pope Francis said in 2013 that “Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the Cross upon themselves as Jesus did.” History teaches us that totalitarian regimes can only survive in darkness and silence, their crimes and brutality unnoticed and unremarked. If the Chinese Communist Party manages to bring the Catholic Church and other religious communities to heel, regimes that disdain human rights will be emboldened, and the cost of resisting tyranny will rise for all brave religious believers who honor God above the autocrat of the day. I pray that, in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party, the Holy See and all who believe in the divine spark enlightening every human life will heed Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John, “The truth will set you free.”