On Wednesday (September 8), a new Bishop was ordained in the Wuhan diocese in the Hubei province of China, following the approval of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and the Vatican. The development came 14 years after the death of the last Bishop in May 2007, amidst the renewed deal between China and the Catholic Church.
The new Bishop, Father Francis Cui Qingqi, was elected in September 2020 to head the diocese by the local church in Wuhan. He was then appointed by Pope Francis as the new Bishop in June this year. On Wednesday, Francis Cui was consecrated into the diocese at the St Joseph Cathedral in Wuhan. The development was confirmed by Matteo Bruni, who heads the Vatican press office. Bruni remarked, “It is the sixth Chinese bishop to be named and ordained within the normative framework of the provisional accord on the appointment of bishops in China.”
The post had been lying vacant in the Wuhan diocese since May 2007, following the death of the then Bishop Bernardine Dong Guangqing in May 2007. Francis Cui was born in the Shanxi province in 1964 and ordained as a priest in 1991. He was later appointed as the administrator and parish priest of the Wuhan diocese in December 2012. The new Bishop also held the post of the Deputy Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China from 2016 onwards. The Sino-Vatican deal has so far paved the path for the consecration of four Bishops since October 2018.
The Sino-Vatican deal and support extended by Pope Francis
Pope Francis has been unapologetic about his communication and ‘secret deal’ with the Chinese government. Earlier this month, he spoke to Spanish radio COPE and emphasised the need for a bilateral dialogue. “China is not easy, but I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue…You can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that … but it is the way. Closed-mindedness is never the way,” Pope Francis had stated.
“What has been achieved so far in China was at least dialogue … some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly … but these are also steps that can be questionable,” the head of the Catholic church said. He had applauded the steps undertaken by the Vatican by drawing parallels with the ‘dialogue’ initiated by diplomat Cardinal Agostino Casaroli with Eastern European counties during the Cold War.
The efforts of Casaroli, during the administration of 3 different Popes, paved the way for freedom of Churches in the Soviet Bloc. It is said that the Sino-Vatican deal of 2018 initially fell apart but was renewed last year. Reportedly, its provisions empower the Vatican Pope to appoint and veto Bishops nominated by the CPC.
Criticism by Western government, Vatican’s demand for apology and its dark past
The former US President Donald Trump had earlier criticised the Vatican’s decision to forge a deal with the Chinese government. He had opined that such a decision undermined the ‘moral authority’ of the Pope. The Head of the Catholic Church was also criticised by conservative Christian groups. However, the Vatican remained firm in their resolute, giving way to a diplomatic crisis with the West.
In August this year, Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin made it clear that the West has to apologise to Pope Francis over their criticism of his policy. Contrary to the wishes of the Western countries, the Vatican has continued to engage with their arch-rival China at a bilateral level. “We are always in dialogue…The Covid pandemic had made meetings more difficult. “However we hope to be able to resume the meetings as soon as possible,” he emphasised.
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is now facing charges for sexual abuse, had claimed in 2016 that there were similarities between the Pope and the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. He claimed that the similarities would be a ‘special gift’ to the world.” I see a lot of things happening that would really open many doors because President Xi and his government are concerned about things that Pope Francis is concerned about,” he added. Critics of Pope Francis have stated that the Vatican has chosen to remain on the wrong side of history yet again.
In July 1933, the Vatican had forged a deal with the newly emerging Nazi government in Germany. The treaty was dubbed as ‘Reichskonkordat‘ or a ‘concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich’.Four years later, the Vatican under Pope Pius XI tried to distance itself from the Nazi regime for racism and discrimination against the Jews. However, the reputation of the Catholic Church took a major blow. Speculations are now rife about the Vatican treading the forbidden road yet again.
Anti-Christian policies of China and the price paid by the Vatican
In a bid to push the Sino-Vatican deal, Pope Francis has not only upset the Western governments but deliberately chose to ignore the ill-treatment of Christians under the Communist Party of China. In July last year, Daily Mail had reported how Chinese authorities had ordered Christians to renounce their faith and replace the crosses, images of Jesus in churches with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping or risk losing welfare benefits. Chinese officials had demolished religious symbols by force in churches in multiple provinces, including Anhui, Jiangsu, Hebei and Zhejiang.
It was also reported that the CPC forcefully removed more than two thousand crosses from churches across China as part of a government campaign to regulate “excessive religious sites”. It had pulled down crosses atop of churches across the country as part of its post-coronavirus crusade against Christianity. The campaign was reportedly aimed at eradicating the Christian landscape and its symbols from China.
A blogger priest, Father Shanren Shenfu had said that silence in the face of the destruction of crosses is part of the price to pay for the Vatican’s agreement with the CCP on the appointment of bishops in the country. “Now when a cross is removed, Christians must be calm and smile,” said Father Shenfu. He added, “Accepting the removal of the crosses as an everyday event, therefore, seems to be the only great contribution that the Chinese Catholic faithful and all the people of God can make to the continuation of the [Sino-Vatican] Agreement.” The priest said if anyone was angry about the destruction, he would be considered a criminal.