Taiwan’s vice president recently visited Pope Francis and invited him to the island nation after the Catholic Church entered into a deal with the Chinese Communist Party regarding its operations in the mainland. Many Taiwanese fear that the Vatican, which had recognized it as a state till now, might neglect it due to Chinese pressure.
China claims that Taiwan is its region and therefore has no right to exist independently. Beijing has been using its financial power to isolate Taiwan from the world. Several countries in South America and Africa had cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan after China dangled investments in front of them. As far as Europe is concerned, the only ally of Taiwan has been the Vatican.
By entering into an agreement with China, the Vatican will now have some freedom to run its churches, albeit under state control. However, the Catholic Church will now come under the obligation of the Chinese Communist Party, which is sure to use its power to influence the Vatican to de-recognize Taiwan. What is to be seen is whether the Church will yield to the temptation of remaining in power in the biggest country in the world or whether it will take a moral stand and choose to recognize Taiwan as a legitimate state.
“What we see is that for the first time, the Communist Party is trembling. They say they don’t want foreign powers to get into their country, but this time they have allowed it. And that’s a good sign, although we don’t know what the consequences will be in the future. But we are not worried, because the pope told us that he was not going to abandon or hurt Taiwan. We asked him that, and we know that as a good shepherd he will not abandon us,” John Hung Shan-chuan, archbishop of Taipei, said to Crux.
The China-Vatican deal
Both the Vatican and China have been at loggerheads for decades over the right to control the country’s churches. While the Vatican had asked for an absolute right to appoint its bishops, Beijing had refused. Both parties came to an agreement recently whereby the Vatican approved the seven bishops appointed by China. In the future, the Vatican will have the right to appoint the bishops, but only from a pool of candidates selected by the Communist Party.
Though the Catholic Church proclaimed that the deal was a victory, many Catholics who have been persecuted for a long time by the Communist Party were unhappy with the compromise the church had made. “An older generation of mainland underground Catholics felt disappointed by the deal, as it was signed in a time of intense religious crackdown across China. Crosses have been torn down, Christian churches closed, and in some cases, Bibles burned, according to underground Protestant Christians,” says South China Morning Post.
There is also a strong fear among many underground Christians (those who practice their faith secretly) that China might actually be emboldened by the Vatican deal as it allows Beijing to define all underground churches as “heresy” and not in line with the officially sanctioned Catholic Church. This can bring about the next wave of attacks against Christians in the country. Some also say that the only reason Beijing agreed to the deal is so that it can infiltrate the Catholic Church’s global power structure and exert influence.