1. Talks to Heal Catholic Rift in China Gain Momentum Under Francis, By Chris Buckley, The New York Times, November 27, 2016, Pg. A8, Asia Pacific.

The Vatican says talks are continuing, and much work remains before a deal is done. But Francis’ apparent determination to see a rapprochement with Beijing has already caused unease among some who are worried that he might give too much away to the hard-line Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

The Communist Party expelled Catholic missionaries after taking power in 1949, condemning them as tools of Western imperialists, and has required Catholics to worship in “patriotic” churches under state oversight. But a third or more of China’s estimated nine million to 12 million Catholics worship in “underground” congregations that are loyal to the pope and have resisted state control, sometimes enduring persecution and imprisonment.

The central dispute is over the power to name new bishops and the fate of existing bishops in China. For the Catholic Church, bishops are divine successors of the apostles, to be appointed by the pope. But China has long insisted on controlling ordinations, arguing that anything else amounts to interference in its internal affairs.

One benefit of reconciliation for the Chinese government may be that the Vatican eventually decides to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and cut formal ties with Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers part of its territory.

Supporters of Francis’ approach said the Chinese church was in danger of splintering further if there was not a compromise. Rival claims to lead some Chinese dioceses and the absence of bishops in others have left many priests and parishioners isolated or feuding, they said

In a sign of the divisiveness of the issue, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the outspoken retired bishop of Hong Kong, wrote in August that Francis was too eager for a deal with Beijing and argued that “the possibility of an unacceptable agreement now looks likely.”

Francis has said he will not be rushed.

“We’re speaking about this slowly, but slow things always go well,” he told reporters last month when asked about the talks. “Fast things don’t go well.”


2. His Holiness Declines to Answer, By Ross Douthat, The New York Times, November 27, 2016, Pg. SR11, SundayReview, Op-Ed Columnist.

Two weeks ago, four cardinals published a so-called dubia — a set of questions, posed to Pope Francis, requesting that he clarify his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia.” In particular they asked him to clarify whether the church’s ban on communion for divorced Catholics in new (and, in the church’s eyes, adulterous) marriages remained in place, and whether the church’s traditional opposition to situation ethics had been “developed” into obsolescence.

It is not that there is any real doubt about where the pontiff stands. Across a period of vigorous debate in 2014 and 2015 he pushed persistently to open communion to at least some remarried Catholics without the grant of annulment. But conservative resistance ran strong enough that the pope seemed to feel constrained. So he produced a document, the as-yet-unclarified Amoris, that essentially talked around the controversy, implying in various ways that communion might be given case by case, but never coming out and saying so directly.

So avoiding clarity seemed intended as a compromise, a hedge.

But the strange spectacle around the dubia is a reminder that this cannot be a permanent settlement.

Francis must know this. For now, he seems to be choosing the lesser crisis of feuding bishops and confused teaching over the greater crisis that might come (although who can say for certain?) if he presented the church’s conservatives with his personal answers to the dubia and simply required them to submit.


3. Vatican Ostpolitik and the Death of Fidel Castro, By Filip Mazurczak, Crisis Magazine, November 28, 2016.

While Pope Francis is not a fan of Castro, he has taken an excessively diplomatic approach to his regime. His approach to the Cuban junta echoes his overall surprising relationship with communism, one that—if anything can be extrapolated from recent Church history—will only have negative consequences in the long term.

Pope Francis’ kind words about communism and bizarre relations with Cuba’s regime seem oddly reminiscent of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik. The latter strategy’s fruits were nothing other than devastating the Church in many communist-ruled countries and making it complacent towards communist regimes. Ostpolitik ended on October 16, 1978, when a charismatic, intelligent Pole who had fought his nation’s communist masters for three decades was elected pope. St. John Paul II wasn’t afraid of speaking the truth about communism; while he did enjoy friendly relations with Mikhail Gorbachev, he was unafraid of speaking the truth about man during his visits to his communist-ruled homeland, especially during the first 1979 visit.

Secularized Cuba is not Poland. Before the Revolution of 1959, less than 10 percent of Cubans were regular churchgoers. Now, as a result of half a century of communist propaganda, there are actually more declared atheists and agnostics than Catholics in Cuba. However, the Church there could have the potential to uplift the people and fight for change.

It would be unfair to characterize Pope Francis as a friend of the Castro regime. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his heart is with the Ladies in White, not with Raul and Fidel. Yet Church history shows that his excessively proper and diplomatic dealings with Havana are unlikely to bear many good fruits. Instead, Francis should unambiguously show that he stands with the people. Throughout the 1980s, St. John Paul II visited many countries ruled by authoritarian regimes: in addition to his native Poland, he paid visits to Pinochet’s Chile, Marcos’ Philippines, Stroessner’s Paraguay, and Duvalier’s Haiti. In all these countries, he did not care about offending his hosts; instead, he met with dissidents and unambiguously condemned the human rights abuses and poverty they had brought about. These pilgrimages are widely considered to have galvanized dissidents, and all these countries are now free. Such a strategy is much more likely to bring about change than the appeasing Ostpolitik mentality.


4. Pope, archbishop express condolences over Fidel Castro’s death, By Catholic News Service, November 27, 2016, 12:57 PM.

In a telegram in Spanish, Pope Francis extended his condolences to Raul Castro on the “sad news” of “the death of your dear brother.” The pope, credited with the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, also expressed condolences to the government and to the Cuban people, and said he was offering prayers.

Though Raul Castro has publicly expressed admiration for Pope Francis, the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government can be described as a work in progress.

Catholics, like other religious groups in the country, witnessed the seizing of church properties, including schools, churches and other centers used for religious gatherings, following the 1959 revolution. Some locales were closed; others were put to nonreligious uses. Priests and religious suspected of being against the revolution were jailed or expelled and practice of the Catholic faith dwindled on the island, particularly when the nation, under Soviet influence, was for a period an officially atheist country.


5. Two hints something’s stirring on anti-Christian persecution, By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, November 26, 2016.

Rome during the past week saw a couple such pieces emerge in the budding push to do something about anti-Christian persecution around the world.

For one thing, a delegation of Hungarian diplomats and politicians was in town for meetings with Vatican officials, including their Deputy State Secretary for Assisting Persecuted Christians – making Hungary to date the only country in the world to have a position in their foreign ministry specifically devoted to anti-Christian persecution. The new effort was announced in September, and the Hungarians wanted to drum up Vatican support.

Among other things, Basa told the stories of several Iraqi priests who’ve been killed – chillingly, he would just casually toss in, “he was at my ordination,” or “he was my parish priest as a kid,” providing a reminder of how profoundly personal these horrors are for the country’s Christian population.

(Basa was forceful, by the way in making the point that work towards sainthood for Father Jacques Hamel, the priest slain in France by men professing loyalty to the Islamic State, is already underway, and he wonders when these murdered Iraqi priests will likewise be beatified and canonized.)

Antonio Olivié, the director general of Rome Reports, stressed that the #StandTogether initiative is designed to be “ecumenical,” open to new partnerships and ways of working together, and not intended to replace what’s already being done by other news agencies and organizations devoted to raising awareness.