A top Catholic Church official in Taiwan has questioned whether a secret deal between the Vatican and China on bishop appointments really exists by suggesting it was probably a verbal agreement.
Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference Secretary General, Father Otfried Chan expressed his doubts while talking to reporters at the bishops’ conference offices in Taipei recently, reported Crux.
Father Chan claimed he had heard “speculation” that the deal with China on bishop appointments “doesn’t exist,” and that it is “only in the mind of the people, not on paper.”
The Vatican announced a “provisional agreement” with China on the appointment of bishops in September 2018, however the details remain a secret. It is thought it allows Beijing to propose bishops for the pope to approve.
The only term made public was Pope Francis lifting the excommunication of seven bishops ordained by Chinese authorities without the approval of the pope.
The secrecy suggests that “maybe there is some truth” to the rumors that no formal deal on paper exists, especially with China continuing to persecute Christians, Father Chan said.
He pointed to reports of churches and crosses being pulled down and restrictions being imposed on religious life, such as children being banned from entering churches.
Many Catholic officials have defended the deal, others have criticized it, while China has not said anything.
“But Beijing speaks with actions, not with words [or] documents,” Chan told reporters. “So, what’s happening [is] they are reinforcing religious oppression … they are not sincere, they are not interested in building diplomatic ties with the Vatican, and I think the Holy See understands that now.”
The priest said if there was an agreement on paper, Beijing would be held to it, he said.
Father Chan thought the deal was aimed at making “some illicit bishops licit, to legalize their status,” to create unity between the underground and official churches.
However, he acknowledged that the pope, as a spiritual leader, was responsible for caring for Catholics everywhere so “he must take care of his flock in China and the unity between the official Church and the Vatican Church.”
“But to do this, he needs to dialogue with Beijing. But it failed. It’s not successful, that’s a fact,” he said.
Meanwhile, despite fears the deal may be part of China’s efforts to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, which it regards as a rogue province since a civil war saw the island split from the mainland in 1949, the Vatican would never abandon the island’s Catholics, Father Chan said.