The false scoop of The Wall Street Journal explained by Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, the leading Catholic expert on China.
by Marco Respinti
It looked like a Wall Street Journal scoop. Beijing, the newspaper said, will recognize the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church in China in exchange for his acceptance of seven Chinese bishops, who had been excommunicated because they were nominated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without the agreement of the Vatican. These bishops belong to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), founded by the regime in 1957 to control and “sinicize” (i.e. submit to CCP control) Chinese Catholics.
But was it a real scoop? One who doubts is Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, and a former professor of History of Western Civilization at the University of Beijing, considered by many the leading Catholic expert on China.
“For at least three years now,” he writes in AsiaNews, “Italian and Vatican journalists have in turn announced that the agreement between China and the Vatican is about to be signed. … And so far nothing has happened. … The fundamental question … is whether China is really interested in this agreement.” In fact, according to Fr. Cervellera, those who really row against the tide are to be found in Beijing, inside the Politburo, rather than in Rome.
In favor of the agreement is Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is working to improve the image of China, given the mass of news on religious persecution and violation of human rights that, ignored by the CCP fellow travelers, come out every day on specialized publications such as Bitter Winter and AsiaNews itself or from NGOs such as ChinaAid, the International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees, Human Rights Without Frontiers, the Laogai Research Foundation Italy, the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, or DAFOH (Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting).
On the other side, against the agreement is the United Front (an alleged “coalition” of parties, useful to the regime for pretending to be ‘pluralist’), the State Administration for Religious Affairs (which sooner or later will be canceled by the reform launched in February 2018 by the new Regulation on Religious Affairs, which is responsible for the escalation of persecution, even against authorized religions) and precisely the CPCA. Why? Because, as Fr. Cervellera explains, “for them, any space given to relations with the Vatican represents a threat to their absolute power”.
Now, as the expert observes, “after the Chinese Communist Party Congress last October, the United Front was placed directly under the Party,” that is to say, President Xi Jinping in person, who is also the general secretary of the Party. However, Fr. Cervellera notes, Xi is weak: the clash with the United States on trade looms dire economic consequences for China and a headache for the CCP, and his anti-corruption campaign has brought him many enemies. Signing an agreement with the Vatican, Father Cervellera believes, would mean “boosting the number of those who would like to see him fall from power.”
Finally, there is him, the Pope. In the heart of Francis, China has a great place, so much that he dreams of landing there. This is why, according to the editor of AsiaNews, “the Vatican delegation seems willing to grant any concession in order to have even a small, even temporary, agreement with the Chinese giant.” To say that “underground” Catholics, always loyal to Rome and now on the brink of an abyss, are worried, is just a euphemism.
The original Italian version of this article has been published in the Italian daily newspaper “Libero” on September 16, 2018.