BanyanA deal between China and the Vatican stirs anxiety in Taiwan

By On September 27, 2018

BanyanA deal between China and the Vatican stirs anxiety in Taiwan

BanyanA deal between China and the Vatican stirs anxiety in Taiwan

But Taiwan’s ties with the Vatican go beyond diplomatic niceties

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ONCE, the Catholic church in China was not underground. In the 17th century Jesuits were favoured advisers to the emperors of the Qing dynasty. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, abetted by a growing Western presence, the church thrived. But after two years of trying to establish formal ties with the new Communist regime, the Vatican gave up in 1951 and resumed diplomatic relations with the Nationalist government, now in exile in Taiwan. Foreign priests and bishops were expelled from the mainland. Many Chinese priests fled to Taiwan.

I n 1957 the Communist Party established the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association as an official overseer. The outraged Pope Pius XII decreed that all bishops consecrating new bishops under its aegis would be excommunicated. Since then, a schism constantly threatened between China’s official Catholic church and the underground one loyal to the Vatican. About half of China’s estimated 10m Catholics sit in each camp. In the coastal Mindong region of Fujian province, for centuries a Catholic stronghold, an estimated 70,000 worshippers all belong to the underground church.

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In the hope of healing the rift, on September 22nd the Vatican announced what it said was a breakthrough: China’s first recognition of papal authority. Neither side is giving away the details of the “provisional” deal, but its outline can be divined. China will give the Vatican a say in the appointment of bishops in the state-controlled church. In return, Pope Francis has in effect acknowledged its legitimacy, even though his predecessors spent much of the Middle Ages resisting this sort of state interference. He is bringing seven bishops, excommunicated because they were state-appointed, back into communion with the church.

For the pope, the deal promises to open a sixth of the world’s population to the church’s message. He has long expressed the desire to visit China, where the church has lost ground to Protestantism, the faith of the bulk of China’s estimated 60m Christians. It does not help that Catholicism is strongest in rural areas. The number of adherents is slowly declining as youngsters head for the city to find jobs, says Anthony Lam of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong. There, mass may not be in their native language, and so is as unintelligible as Latin: there is no Cantonese service in Shanghai, for instance. Supporters of the pope think that, with more priests and official blessing, this could change.

Yet Pope Francis’s move has plenty of critics. Many of the faithful are appalled that he would recognise priests over whose appointment the stridently atheist Communist Party has a veto. And the deal comes at a time when the party is cracking down on religion on several fronts.

Many unofficial (mainly Protestant) churches have been razed and congregations broken up. President Xi Jinping has launched a campaign to “sinicise” relig ion, ie, to eliminate foreign influence and instil loyalty to the party. Tibetan Buddhists struggle to practise their faith freely. In Xinjiang the state has detained hundreds of thousands of blameless Muslim Uighurs in Mao-style re-education camps. Cardinal Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, accuses the Vatican of sending its flock “into the mouths of the wolves”. Mindong’s underground bishop, Guo Xijin, is being forced to step aside in favour of a state-approved cleric.

Taiwan fears a fate similar to the bishop’s. China has long made two demands of the Vatican. The first, now met, was not to deny the authorities any say in the running of the church. The second is withdrawal of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. That has not happened, but “some day, one day” it surely will, Mr Lam says.

There are fewer than 300,000 Catholics in Taiwan, with some congregations made up nearly entirely of Filipino migrant workers. China, meanwhile, has poached five diplomatic allies since Tsai Ing-wen became president in 2016, leaving just 17. The sundering of formal ties with small Pacific and Latin American countries may not do much damage to Taiwan’s cause, but losing its most prestigious ally, which claims to speak for 1bn Catholics, would be a much bigger blow.

What should Taiwan do? Michael Reilly, a former British diplomat, argues that instead of its emphasis on protocolâ€"next month Ms Tsai’s deputy, Chen Chien-jen, will attend the canonisation of Pope Paul VI in Romeâ€"the government needs to strengthen informal ties with the Vatican. That should include support for Catholic schools and charities in Taiwan which, after all, serve non-Catholics too. Taiwan can also build on its role as a centre for training priests to serve in China. That is worth more than a nunciature.

Source: Google News Taiwan | Netizen 24 Taiwan

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