By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY, (Catholic News Service) – As the October deadline approaches for the extension of the Vatican’s agreement with the Chinese government, the newly appointed editor of the news agency of the Dicastery for Evangelization said the deal has been instrumental in allowing Catholics to practice their faith openly and in communion with the church.
In an editorial published September 22, Gianni Valente, who was appointed earlier in the month as editor of Fides news agency, also said recent statements by Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, “hinted at a positive intention on the part of the Holy See to continue the process of negotiation.”
The agreement, he wrote, has allowed for Chinese Catholics to “experience the adventure of confession of faith in Christ in today’s China as it is, without privileges, without being pointed at and perceived as a foreign body, as exotic guests or representatives of distant cultures.”
First signed in Beijing Sept. 22, 2018, the Vatican and the Chinese government agreed in 2020 “to extend the experimental implementation phase of the provisional agreement for another two years.”
The provisional agreement, the text of which has never been made public, outlines procedures for ensuring Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the pope before their ordinations and installations, according to news reports at the time.
Vatican officials always had said that giving up full control over the choice of bishops would not be what the Vatican hoped for, but that it could be a good first step toward ensuring greater freedom and security for the Catholic community in China.
The deal, however, has been criticized by several prominent figures, including by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong.
The cardinal, a longtime critic of Beijing who is currently facing charges for failing to properly register a now-defunct fund to help anti-government protesters, said the agreement would “kill” the unofficial or underground church in China, whose leaders refuse to register with the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
In an interview the Reuters news agency in early July, Pope Francis said that although the agreement is not ideal, it was “moving well, and I hope that in October it can be renewed.”
“Diplomacy is like that. When you face a blocked situation, you have to find the possible way, not the ideal way, out of it,” the pope told Reuters. “Diplomacy is the art of the possible and of doing things to make the possible become a reality.”
Cardinal Parolin, in an interview September 3 with an Italian news program, also expressed his hope that the agreement would be renewed. However, he also acknowledged that some difficulties arose during recent negotiations between the Holy See and China.
Nevertheless, he said, “when you negotiate with someone, you must always start from recognizing their good faith. Otherwise, the negotiation makes no sense.”
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