Chinese national flag is pictured in a file photo in front of a Catholic church in the village of Huangtugang. CNS photo/Thomas Peter, Reuters

Pope ‘badly advised’ on China-Vatican deal

By  Sarah Mac Donald, Catholic News Service
  • December 23, 2020

DUBLIN -- The last governor of Hong Kong criticized the Vatican’s agreement with China on the appointment of bishops and said Pope Francis has been “exceptionally badly advised” in concluding the pact.

In his online discussion, “China and the Liberal Democracies - Do We Face a new Cold War?” for the international Catholic weekly The Tablet, Chris Patten appealed to the Vatican to “tell us what is in the deal.”

The details of the bilateral agreement remain secret. It was renewed in October despite criticism by the United States and human rights organizations.

“The idea that this is a good time to do deals with the Chinese Communist Party is, I think, astonishing,” Patten said and stressed that the rise to power of a more authoritarian leader in President Xi Jinping had seen human rights and freedom of religion in China suffer.

Patten, who was governor of Hong Kong from 1992 to 1997 and oversaw the handover of the British colony to China under the one-country, two-systems principle, said the Vatican deal would not pass the “Dietrich Bonhoeffer test.” Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, had said that “silence in the face of evil is itself evil. He said that not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act, when people are doing terrible things,” Patten said.

“I think this is an example of really bad advice, which is going to come back and hurt (the Church).”

Patten, who headed a committee to advise Pope Francis on revamping and modernizing the Holy See’s communications, said the deal should be examined to see if the plight of Catholics had improved since it was signed more than two years ago. He said he believed “exactly the opposite has been happening.”

“I am a huge, unqualified admirer of Pope Francis, but I think this policy, which has been visited upon him, is wholly wrong.”

The Vatican-China provisional agreement outlines procedures for ensuring that Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the Pope before their ordinations and installations.

Vatican officials have said that giving up full control over the choice of bishops would not be what the Vatican hoped for, but that the agreement was a good first step toward ensuring greater freedom and security for the Catholic community in China.

Patten accused China of behaving in a “loutish and bullying way” as exemplified by its killing of Indian soldiers in the Himalayas, the sinking of other countries’ fishing vessels in the South China Sea, its menacing of Taiwan, picking arguments with Australia and Canada and using coercive diplomacy.

Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told The Canadian Press that “the unpredictability that China has been showing the world — not just to Canada — is giving all of us significant concern.”

Of paramount concern to Canada has been China’s detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor  in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest in 2018 of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, wanted on fraud charges in the U.S.

“When a country arrests two Canadians, it is not a message to Canada, it is a message to the rest of the world saying: ‘This is how we will do diplomacy,’ ” Sajjan told CP.

Patten was also critical of the Vatican’s silence on Chinese repression of Buddhists in Tibet and Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

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