giovedì 10 maggio 2018

(Eva Dou in Beijing and Francis X. Rocca in Rome) A landmark agreement aimed at healing a nearly 70-year rift between Beijing and the Vatican is in limbo as the Chinese government tightens control over religion. The Vatican had hoped to clear the biggest hurdle to the deal—intended to bring together China’s state-backed and unauthorized Catholic communities—at a meeting this month, people familiar with the talks said, but it has yet to be scheduled.
At that meeting, the people said, Vatican officials had planned to accede to China’s main precondition for a deal: the formal recognition of seven excommunicated Chinese bishops appointed by the government without the approval of the pope. That would clear the way for Beijing to give Pope Francis the right to veto its future bishop candidates.
A Divided Church
China’s Catholics are legally supposed to worship in state-approved churches, but many attend unregistered churches in communities with bishops loyal only to Rome.
The deal’s prospects have been complicated by China’s crackdown on religious institutions and activities, which began with the implementation of strict new regulations in February. President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are promoting Marxism and “socialist” values as a state-approved system of belief.
Local officials across the country have toed the line by shutting down unregistered churches and Sunday schools for children, taking down crosses and restricting other practices that are technically illegal in China but generally tolerated, despite periodic crackdowns.
“Right now the government has to be strengthening, tightening up control of theological matters,” said Sister Beatrice Leung, an expert on Catholicism in China and professor at Taiwan’s Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages. “It is not a good time for implementation of the agreement.”
China’s estimated 10 million Catholics are legally supposed to worship in churches approved by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a state-controlled body that isn’t recognized by the Vatican. But many Catholics attend unregistered churches in so-called underground communities with their own bishops loyal only to Rome.
The Vatican’s reason for seeking a compromise on bishop appointments has been to win more breathing room and religious freedom for Chinese Catholics, a goal that seems more unlikely in the current climate, Sister Leung said.
One person familiar with the Vatican’s thinking voiced anger that China had continued to put restrictions on underground clerics—detaining some for several days during Holy Week in March. This person said the Vatican is unenthusiastic about the agreement but resigned to it as the best possibility on the table, and that Beijing is holding up the process for unknown reasons.
“We thought we had an agreement,” the person said.
Beijing sees a risk of setting a precedent by granting an overseas religious leader a measure of authority, scholars say. China’s religious administrators have long kept a close eye on Tibetans who support the exiled Dalai Lama; Muslim Uighurs in the country’s northwest; and Christian groups that accept foreign donations and host preachers from overseas.
A Chinese senior religious affairs official said publicly last month that any Vatican deal would have to accord with China’s constitution, which forbids foreign meddling in domestic religious and social affairs.
The negotiations have taken place at a time when China is increasing pressure on Taiwan, which split from China in 1949 amid civil war and has turned more defiant of Beijing’s wishes under its current leadership.
The Vatican is the only European government that maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and the most influential of the 19. China last week successfully wooed another of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners, the Dominican Republic.
“We need to consider why this round of negotiations started,” said a China-based scholar with knowledge of the negotiations. “Because of the Taiwan issue? Or because the Chinese side was sincere to solve the religious problems?”
Beijing’s demand that the Vatican recognize the seven state-appointed bishops has been difficult for the Holy See to accept because it requires forcing two loyal bishops to step aside, said Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, an expert on China-Vatican relations at the Leuven Catholic University in Belgium.
The Vatican is now ready to accept these terms, and its officials intend to hand over the legal documentation of the pope’s rehabilitation of the seven excommunicated bishops at the next meeting, according to people familiar with the matter. The Vatican looked into reports that two of the seven bishops had families and found the reports to be baseless, one of the people said.
But Beijing has so far declined to set a date for a meeting, which would take place in Rome, the person said. The two sides weren’t expected to sign the deal on bishop appointments at this next meeting, though they were set to discuss the logistics of the signing, the person said.
Even if a deal is eventually reached, China’s recent curbs on religious freedom have made an agreement less meaningful for the Vatican, said Sister Leung.
“Even right now if the Vatican signs the agreement, what is the purpose to the Vatican?” she said. “The whole political atmosphere [in China], the ideological control, is very much tightening up.”
Anthony Lam, executive secretary at the Catholic Church-run Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, said he doesn’t expect an agreement in the immediate future. The two sides have yet to work out a detailed mechanism that can guarantee future bishop appointments will be acceptable to both sides, he said.
“It’s not easy to reach an agreement,” he said.
Fonte: The Wall street Journal