Catholic conundrum: Historic breakthrough in ties between the Vatican and Beijing leads to an ‘unholy war of words’


Since Jesuit priest and missionary Matteo Ricci became the first European to enter the Forbidden City in 1601, the Catholic church has been trying — and mostly failing — to work out a deal with Beijing. In February 1, we noted the latest development in this centuries-long negotiation: reports of an apparently “historic breakthrough in relations.”

The breakthrough is a “common framework” for a deal on how to appoint bishops in China, long one of the most vexing issues for the two sides: essentially, Beijing wants the final say in approving the appointment of bishops through the official Chinese Catholic church. But many faithful Catholics reject the supervision of the Communist Party and see such a deal as a compromise too far.

  • “An unholy war of words” is how Reuters characterized the ongoing dispute within the Catholic church about the deal.
  • The Chinese “are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church” right now, said Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, a senior Vatican official, according to the Catholic Herald. Sorondo has been visiting China as part of the Vatican’s negotiating team.
  • Such “idolization of China…makes a laughing stock of the Church,responded Bernardo Cervellera, editor of Asia News, which covers Catholics in the continent. He said that the official “describes a China that does not exist or that vigilant Chinese escorts did not show him.”
  • For a secular take on the dispute, see this essay by journalist Andrej Mrevlje, who has reported from both Rome and Beijing.
  • More on Catholicism in China: listen to our Sinica Podcasts with journalist and scholar of religion Ian Johnson: China’s great spiritual revival and The Vatican and China.