Only by making his liberation a pre-condition for renewing the agreement with China will the Holy See be able to end the prelate’s calvary.
by Wu Xiuying
In October 2022, the Vatican-China deal of 2018 will expire, after having been renewed at its first expiration in 2020 for another two years. Will the Vatican renew it? Chinese Catholics have no doubt that renewing the deal is in the best interest of the CCP. But is it in the interest of the Vatican?
Here, opinions differ. Some Catholics who talked to Bitter Winter do appreciate the fact that, at least in theory, there is now in China a single Catholic Church—instead of two, the government-controlled “patriotic” and the independent “underground”—and Catholics who decide to attend the services of the Patriotic Catholic Church can now do so with the blessing of the Vatican and without feeling guilty for participating in “schismatic” rites.
However, the majority of Chinese Catholics either were not happy with the agreement in the first place or are disappointed with its results. Of course, independent opinion polls cannot be carried out but Catholics visibly vote with their feet. Few among those who used to attend underground churches follow the Patriotic bishops, even if they are now recognized by the Vatican. Among a general climate of confusion, many have abandoned the Catholic Church altogether. Bitter Winter has also collected the opinions of dozens of priests and laypersons who, while respectful of the Pope and the Holy See, believe they have been misled into signing an agreement that benefits the regime only.
One test these dissenting or perplexed Catholics regard as crucial is whether the CCP would free the underground bishops it has arrested. Bitter Winter mentioned the case of Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of the Xinxiang diocese, who was arrested in May 2021 and whose whereabouts are still unknown. We reported that, according to credible sources, the Vatican has asked for his liberation, but to no avail.
The most talked about case among Chinese Catholics concerns Bishop Augustine Cui Tai, who was Coadjutor Bishop in the Diocese of Xuanhua, in Hebei province. 72-year-old Bishop Cui Tai has been in jail for long periods of time since 2007, although it was periodically released for a few days during the Chinese New Year and other holidays. From January to June 2020, he enjoined his longest period of freedom, since after the Chinese New Year he was confined in his home because of the pandemic. But then he was arrested again. According to Catholics in Xuanhua, there are several rumors but where he is detained is unknown.
Bishop Cui Tai is one of the so-called “conscientious objectors” who refuse to join the Patriotic Association although this is permitted and even encouraged by the Vatican. He is accused by the CCP of telling his flock that even if he has not joined the Patriotic Association, he is in communion with the Holy See. But this is true, according to the Vatican itself, which has repeatedly stated that it does not encourage conscientious objection but regards objectors as Catholics in good standing whose choice should be respected.
Bishop Cui Tai is a popular prelate and his detention is an immense scandal. There are credible reports that he has been repeatedly tortured in jail, since he stubbornly refuses to join the Patriotic Association. His calvary proves that there is something wrong in the 2018 deal. Many Chinese Catholics believe that, as it did unsuccessfully for Bishop Zhang Weizhu, the Vatican is now quietly asking for the release of Bishop Cui Tai as well.
However, asking is not enough. Releasing the conscientious objectors bishops, including Bishop Cui Tai, should be made a pre-condition for renewing the agreement. Unless this happens, Bishop Cui Tai and others will continue to be detained and tortured.