China is a terrible oppressor of religious liberty and persecutor of faithful people. Think organ harvesting of Falun Gong. The stomping of Tibetan Buddhism. The genocide of Uyghurs and their impressment into slave labor. Christians subjected to the country’s under-construction, pernicious social-credit system. The list goes on and on.
Chinese Catholics have not been spared. But some worry that Pope Francis has not taken a hard enough line opposing the persecution of the authentic Catholic Church in China. Unfortunately, Pope Francis just gave religious-freedom advocates more reason for concern.
A little background: The Vatican and China are negotiating an extension of a two-year agreement — terms undisclosed — designed to protect China’s Catholics. Writing in First Things, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo worried that the agreement had not achieved its purpose, citing Fr. Paul Zhang Guanghun, a priest who was beaten and “disappeared,” among many other examples. (Read the whole thing. It is very illuminating.)
Pompeo’s advocacy appears not to have been appreciated at the Holy See. He was supposed to meet with Francis this week when at the Vatican to deliver a strong speech on threats to religious freedom generally in China and the threat to Chinese Catholics specifically. At the last minute, that meeting was canceled — ostensibly because the pope didn’t want to appear to be taking sides in the American election.
But some suspect that the real reason was that the pope is reluctant to take the hard line Pompeo advocates — a fear amplified by the pope’s concurrent refusal to meet with the Cardinal Emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, also in Rome. It’s all very concerning.
Pompeo did deliver his speech. Here are few excerpts from, “Moral Witness and Religious Freedom”:
The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more. Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression:
Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy. And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested.
Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping.
All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had “taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.”
We must support those demanding freedoms in our time, like Father Lichtenberg did.
Pompeo ended with an exhortation:
It’s now some twenty years ago this very week that Pope John Paul II canonized 87 Chinese believers and 33 European missionaries killed in China before the current Communist regime took power.
At the time, he said the following: He said that “the Church intends merely to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honor the noble Chinese people.”
Brave men and women all over the world, taking that “risk of freedom,” continue to fight for respect for their right to worship, because their conscience demands it.
Pope John Paul II bore witness to his flock’s suffering, and he challenged tyranny. By doing so, he demonstrated how the Holy See can move our world in a more humane direction, like almost no other institution.
May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time. May we all be so bold in our time.