China–Holy See relations
There have been no official People's Republic of China – Holy See relations since 1951. However in September 2018 the PRC and the Holy See signed an agreement allowing the Pope to appoint and veto bishops approved by the Communist Party of China.
The Beijing government broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951 after a complicated incident. Throughout 1950 and 1951, China had been putting pressure on the Vatican by threatening a breakaway of "independent Catholics", but many priests opposed the movement, and Zhou Enlai sought a middle ground. A deadly controversy was then manufactured: a priest working at the Holy See internunciature (legation) had thrown out an old 1930s-era mortar in a trash pile out of his home. A businessman named Antonio Riva discovered the mortar and took a non-functioning piece of it back to his house to display as an antique. When Communist officials saw Riva's curio in his home, they arrested him for conspiracy to assassinate Mao Zedong, which Riva denied. Riva was executed and the Holy See's diplomatic mission was banished from the country for "espionage". Tarcisio Martina, the regional apostolic prefect, was sentenced to life in prison and died in 1961, while four other "conspirators" were given shorter sentences.
The Beijing government has set two conditions for reestablishing the relations: that the Holy See "not interfere in religious matters in China" and that, in line with Beijing's One-China policy, it break the ties with the Taipei government that it established after the expulsion of Archbishop Riberi, ties that, since the United Nations' recognition of the Beijing government as the government of China, it now maintains only at the level of chargé d'affaires. The Holy See has indicated that it would have no difficulty about the second condition, but requires discussion about the concrete meaning of the first. The main point of contention concerns the appointing of Catholic bishops in mainland China, who are now named by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), at some periods in agreement with the Holy See, at other times in direct opposition to its declared wishes. The PRC government's position is that bishops should be appointed by itself; the Holy See's position is that bishops can only be appointed by the Pope, while envisaging in some cases a form of consultation with the civil authorities.
The Holy See made efforts in 2007 to create formal ties with the PRC. High-ranking bishops in the Roman Catholic Church implied that such a diplomatic move was possible, predicated on the PRC granting more freedom of religion and interfering less in the hierarchy of the church in mainland China.
In September 2007, the appointment of Father Joseph Li Shan by the PRC authorities was said to be "tacitly approved" by the Vatican. In May 2008, the China Philharmonic Orchestra from mainland China performed a concert for the Pope inside the Vatican, prompting analysts to speak of a "growing rapprochement" between the two countries. In April 8, 2011 the Financial Times reported that Baron Von Pfetten organised the first major breakthrough discussion at leadership level during a three days closed door seminar in his French château where a senior Chinese visiting delegation met with Monseigneur Balestrero the then Holy See Undersecretary for Relations with States. Since Pope Francis' inauguration in March 2013 he has publicly expressed his wish to visit China and improve the Sino-Holy See relationship in a media interview. It was also reported that on a Papal visit to South Korea in August 2014 China opened up its airspace to the Pope's plane, and while crossing the Chinese airspace the Pope sent a telegram expressing his "best wishes" to the Chinese people.
In the late 1990s, officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing raised the possibility that it might one day be used as the Holy See's embassy as a reason against demolishing an abandoned architecturally distinctive mansion belonging to the archdiocese (the reputedly haunted house at Chaonei No. 81).
In January 2018, the Church was close to negotiating a deal with China that allows China to have more control over the underground churches and allows the Vatican to have more control over the appointment of bishops. While this did not amount to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties, this was seen as a huge step towards formal recognition. However, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun regarded the warming of diplomatic relationships as selling out the Catholic Church in China, as the process involves the resignation of several bishops of the underground church. A vigil was held by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese in response from 12 February to 13 February in St Bonaventure Church.
September 2018 Holy See–China Agreement
On September 22, 2018, China and the Vatican signed an historic agreement concerning Bishop appointments in China. China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the agreement also works to maintain communications and work to improve relations between both sides. However, it does not establish diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China. The Vatican currently has diplomatic ties to Taiwan, which China does not recognize. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, speaking in Lithuania, described the agreement as "not political but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities." While the agreement states that China will recommend the Bishops before they are appointed by the Pope, it also stipulates that the Pope has authority to veto any Bishop which China recommends. Francis then approved seven bishops who had been appointed by Beijing, after withdrawing church censures against them, and against one recently deceased bishop, who had received episcopal consecration without papal approval. On 23 September, the Catholic Church in China pledged to remain loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Pope Francis also released a letter to Chinese Catholics after the agreement. He stated, "On the civil and political level, Chinese Catholics must be good citizens, loving their homeland and serving their country with diligence and honesty, to the best of their ability. On the ethical level, they should be aware that many of their fellow citizens expect from them a greater commitment to the service of the common good and the harmonious growth of society as a whole. In particular, Catholics ought to make a prophetic and constructive contribution born of their faith in the kingdom of God. At times, this may also require of them the effort to offer a word of criticism, not out of sterile opposition, but for the sake of building a society that is more just, humane and respectful of the dignity of each person."
Soon after the agreement, several high level persecutions of Catholics in China were undertaken. On October 26, 2018, AsiaNews reported that despite the agreement, the Chinese government decided to continue including the Catholic Church in its religious crackdown and destroyed two Marian shrines, one of which was located in Shanxi and the other located in Guizhou.
- Sino-Roman relations
- Holy See–Republic of China relations
- Roman Catholicism in China
- List of Apostolic Nuncios to China
- Chinese Catholic Bishops Conference
- Foreign relations of the Holy See
- Foreign relations of the People's Republic of China
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H.E. Mgr Joseph Guo Jincai, H.E. Mgr Joseph Huang Bingzhang, H.E. Mgr Paul Lei Shiyin, H.E. Mgr Joseph Liu Xinhong, H.E. Mgr Joseph Ma Yinglin, H.E. Mgr Joseph Yue Fusheng, H.E. Mgr Vincent Zhan Silu and H.E. Mgr Anthony Tu Shihua, OFM (who, before his death on 4th January 2017, had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See).
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