By Vatican News
The Provisional Agreement the Holy See signed with the People’s Republic of China, concerning the appointment of bishops, “is only a starting point,” which already has brought some results. “It is necessary to continue the dialogue so it can bear more substantial fruit,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, in the opening speech at a conference on “Another China: Time of Crisis, Time of Change.”
The conference, organized by the PIME Missionary Centre in Milan, celebrates 150 years of presence of the missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in China.
In his address, Cardinal Parolin describes the history of the Church in China, and shows that since the time of Pius XII, the Holy See has “felt the need for dialogue, even if the circumstances of the time made it very difficult.”
The Cardinal explained that all the Popes from St Paul VI to Pope Francis have sought what Benedict XVI described as the overcoming of a difficult situation, “of misunderstandings and incomprehension” that did not benefit “either the Chinese Authorities nor the Catholic Church in China.” Pope Benedict XVI himself, Parolin said, approved “the draft agreement on the appointment of bishops in China,” which was only signed in 2018.
A genuinely pastoral agreement
Cardinal Parolin clarified the Holy See’s position by once again rejecting political readings of a genuinely pastoral agreement. “Some misunderstandings have arisen,” he said. Some of these, he explained, come from attributing objectives to the Provisional Agreement that simply do not apply to it; others, from linking the Agreement to events in the life of the Church in China that are foreign to it, or to political issues that have nothing to do with the Agreement.
“I remind you once again that the Agreement of 22 September 2018 concerns exclusively the appointment of bishops,” Cardinal Parolin said.
Chinese Bishops in commmunion with Bishop of Rome
The Secretary of State acknowledged “the existence of many other problems concerning the life of the Catholic Church in China. But it has not been possible to deal with them all together,” he said. “We know that the road to full normalization will still be a long one, as Benedict XVI foresaw in 2007. The question of the appointment of bishops, however, is of particular importance. It is, in fact, the problem that has caused the Catholic Church in China the most suffering in the last sixty years.”
“For the first time in many decades,” said Parolin, “today all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome.” Those who know the history of the Church in China, he continued, “know how important it is that all Chinese bishops are in full communion with the universal Church.”
Until two years ago, the possibility of new illegitimate ordinations had always remained open. For this reason, the Secretary of State emphasized, it was necessary “to face and resolve this delicate problem definitively” with an agreement whose aim is to “help the local Churches enjoy greater freedom, autonomy and organization, so that they can dedicate themselves to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and contributing to the integral development of the person and society.”
Only a starting point
Emphasizing that the Provisional Agreement is only “a starting point,” Cardinal Parolin noted that nonetheless, “in these two years,” he has seen “signs of growing closeness among Chinese Catholics, who have long been divided on many issues.” This is important, he said, precisely because the Pope has, in a special way, entrusted to the Catholic community in China “the commitment to living an authentic spirit of reconciliation among brothers and sisters, making concrete gestures that help to overcome the misunderstandings of the past, even of the recent past. In this way the faithful, the Catholics in China, will be able to bear witness to their faith, a genuine love, and also open themselves to dialogue between all peoples and to the promotion of peace.”