1. Who Made Xi Jinping Pope?: A Vatican-China deal is imminent. Millions of Chinese Catholics should be afraid. 

By Mark Simon, Mr. Simon is an executive with Next Digital in Hong Kong, The Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2018, Pg. A13, Opinion

Ever since the red flag rose over China in 1949, Roman Catholics there have suffered because of their fidelity to the pope in Rome. Now the Holy Father himself has become a source of tribulation. In its eagerness to reach a deal with China, the Vatican is elevating the persecutors over the persecuted.

Xi Jinping, an atheist and hard-line communist, became leader of China in 2012. The Chinese government has since stepped up its violations of human rights, including religious freedom. This is no accident. In 2016 President Xi declared that all party members should be “firm Marxist atheists and never find any of their beliefs in any religion.”

Against this backdrop, for some reason Pope Francis and his Vatican diplomatic corps think now is a good time to deal with Beijing.

The pope’s dealings with similar regimes, notably Cuba and Venezuela, do not inspire confidence. Perhaps he dreams of becoming the first pope to celebrate Mass in Tiananmen Square. That would make for a powerful image. But the hard-liners in Beijing are not naive. They are very conscious of the church’s role in communism’s fall, especially in Poland.

Do the pope and his diplomats really think Mr. Xi is merely going through the motions when he imprisons priests and bishops?

The proposed deal also needlessly deepens pre-existing divisions. Catholics in China currently belong to either the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association—a government-controlled church—or the underground church. The deal requires all underground bishops to join the government church, though not necessarily with their current title, or resign. It also forces all the priests and faithful in the underground church to join the CPCA. Anyone who doesn’t comply could face arrest for illegal activity, all while being declared disobedient by the Vatican.

Knowing that the Holy Father was on their side helped millions of Chinese Catholics—including Cardinal Zen—through their darkest days. But now they have to wonder about the Holy See’s judgment. Perhaps the only real hope for the Catholic faithful in China is that an aggressive and emboldened Beijing will insist on further capitulations. Maybe that would finally get the pope to walk from a deal.


2. Hong Kong ex-cardinal warns against Vatican-China deal. 

By Kelvin Chan, Associated Press, February 9, 2018, 7:33 AM

Hong Kong’s retired archbishop warned Friday that a deal between the Vatican and China that cedes too much power to Beijing would place the country’s Catholic followers in a big “birdcage.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen said the Holy See should abandon talks with China over contentious bishop nominations if it would have to compromise too much to please the country’s Communist rulers.

Zen, 86, said there’s no reason at the moment to believe in any goodwill from Beijing on working toward a reasonable compromise.

Unconfirmed reports say the Vatican is close to a compromise with China, which has an estimated 12 million Catholics. About half worship in underground churches that recognize only Rome as their highest authority while the rest belong to state-authorized churches with clergy named by Beijing.

Though the Vatican has claimed bishop ordination as its right, both sides had an unwritten agreement allowing Beijing to pick candidates that the Holy See would consider and then tacitly endorse. Though the deal wasn’t always adhered to, it generally prevented Beijing from appointing bishops that the Vatican would consider flawed for personal or doctrinal reasons.


3. In abuse scandal, Pope stakes his case on evidence, not authority. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, February 9, 2018

There have been mini-fracases along the way …but never enough to put much of a dent in the broad media love affair with Francis.

Now, however, the romance appears to be in crisis, amid intense criticism currently swirling around the pope’s statement on his return flight from a trip to Chile and Peru in late January that sexual victims in Chile asserting that a bishop knew about their abuse and covered it up had not “come forward,” contrasted with aggressive reporting by the Associated Press that a letter from victims outlining those charges had been presented to the pontiff through Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston in 2015.

As a textual matter, the pope didn’t really say “come forward” in the usual English sense of “go public.” What he said, literally, in the original Italian, was, “Non sono venuti, non hanno dato le evidenze per il giudizio,” meaning, “They did not come, they did not give evidence for the judgment.” It seems clear in context he meant they “did not come” to him, meaning placing evidence directly in his hands.

By way of contrast, the fact that the pope actually was presented with details of the charges against Bishop Juan Barros of the Diocese of Osorno three years ago has been known for a long time.

In the current focus on “What did the pope know, and when did he know it?”, a key point about the way this is unfolding risks being lost: To wit, that Francis has staked the Barros debate on the grounds of evidence rather than authority.

Here’s another way he might have answered the Barros question on that in-flight news conference: “In the Catholic Church, it’s the pope who decides who’s fit to be a bishop. I made this decision, and I’m standing by it.”

Naturally, such a response would have been a PR disaster, but from an ecclesiological and canon law point of view, it also would have been perfectly accurate. Framing it that way, of course, would have implied there’s really no evidence that could cause Francis to change his mind, and thus no place left for the discussion to go.

Instead, however, Francis has made the litmus test the presence or absence of evidence that Barros actually witnessed, or at least knew about, the abuse being committed by Karadima, and failed to act on that knowledge. The implication is that if such evidence is verified and confirmed, then action will follow.

In turn, that makes the current mission of Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta critically important. Scicluna has been tapped by the pope to investigate the Barros case.

To put the point differently, Barros’ fate really isn’t in Francis’s hands now, but those of Scicluna – and if Barros actually is guilty of a cover-up, then he’s unlikely to find much comfort in that thought.


4. Chinese priests ordered to put up signs banning children from churches. 

By Catholic News Service, February 9, 2018

Since China’s new regulations for religious affairs took effect on February 1, minors have been banned from entering places of worship in several regions.

A priest in Hebei province who asked to remain anonymous told ucanews.comthat authorities had asked clergymen in some parts of the province to post signs prohibiting minors from entering religious venues, prayer houses and other church premises.

“They also threaten churches that they cannot be used if they refuse to post the signs,” he said.

The priest said he was talking to the State Administration for Religious Affairs “to strive for space for religious freedom and the Church to survive; to protect the Church and staff from being attacked; and to preserve the Church’s dogma.”

“All religious sites must be registered; no religious activities can be held beyond registered venues; non-registered clergymen are forbidden to host religious liturgies; and party members and minors are prohibited from entering a church,” he said. “The living space for the Church is getting less and less.”

Before the regulations, communist authorities were already tightening their grip on practising Christians. Last August, ucanews.com reported at least four regional governments had issued notices that restricted children from joining Christian groups and attending religious activities.