Although there are some positive - but formal - elements, the agreement seems to be a victory for China, which retains the power to draw up the list of candidates for the episcopate. The bishops who have been excommunicated, behave like "when they were illegitimate". A real step forward would be the recognition of underground bishops and the establishment of a true Episcopal Conference that includes official and underground pastors.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - There is no visible change in the Church in China after the agreement between Beijing and the Holy See. This is what this (official) priest of Central China writes to AsiaNews. According to Fr. Zaoxu, China "got what it wanted": to keep the list of names of candidates for the episcopate in its hands. And the seven reconciled bishops, "show no different principles than when they were illegitimate". There are certainly some positive elements, but a real change can only be achieved if the underground bishops are united to the official bishops in a real Chinese Bishops' Conference. For this reason the priest hopes that this theme - the recognition of the underground bishops will be dealt with as soon as possible in future Sino-Vatican dialogues. Fr Zaoxu then makes a curious comparison between the commercial dialogue between China and the United States and the dialogues between China and the Holy See.
It is not clear how significant the Provisional Agreement is. If we are to compare before and after the Accord, then there has been no visible change in the Church in China. Some believe that, once the Agreement between China and the Vatican was signed, we must wait for some improvement or worsening of the situation: time belongs to the Lord and the results are also in His hands. Others think that it is not important for the Agreement to be good or bad, but each one must make the best possible commitment to the services of the faithful and to the formation of the parish communities. Still others consider that the Agreement was signed by Pope Francis for the Church in China to truly undertake the path of communion, emphasizing its "pastoral" character. The Agreement has put an end to the decades-long period of illegality of the Church in China. After the signing of the Agreement, there will be no more illegitimate bishops. Furthermore, for the first time, the governing authority of the Holy Father towards the Chinese Church has obtained recognition from an atheistic government: some point out that we cannot but admit that this is a great progress.
With the Agreement, the Chinese government has obtained what it wanted, that is, to maintain the power to propose to the Pope the list of names of episcopal candidates in the Chinese Church. Moreover, the long-awaited request to legitimize the seven bishops [excommunicated] was welcomed by the Holy Father, who legitimized them all. This solved the punishment these bishops felt in their conscience for a long time, as well as putting an end to the embarrassing state of faith in the Chinese Church.
I have heard that after the Agreement, discussions will continue on the problem of the communion of underground bishops. Given that the clandestine bishops are not allowed to participate, the Conference of Chinese bishops has existed only in a nominal and instrumental way, devoid of content. Only when all the bishops, without exclusion, participate will it exist in an appropriate sense. For this reason, the work that continues after the Agreement is extremely important.
The seven bishops, although legitimized, for the most part, show no different principles than when they were illegitimate.
The future of the Chinese Church after the Agreement has two possible directions: either it will improve step by step, or it will get worse every day. Both these future directions will depend entirely on the openess or closure of the responsible authorities.
The pastoral negotiations between China and the Vatican have similar characteristics to the commercial ones between China and the United States. Faced with the Vatican, China enjoys superiority, while it feels inferior to the US. This for one reason only: the US requires China to make changes in the economic and military sector. This would parallel with the Vatican's request for changes in religious freedom.
Undoubtedly, the superiority of the US in the face of China is similar to the superiority of China in front of the Vatican. China's impotence before the United States is similar to that of the Vatican before China.
Time is urgent, so even if China has 100 things that it does not want, it still seeks ways to negotiate with the US; even if the Vatican has 1000 things that it does not like, it is also ready to endure humiliations in order to continue the negotiations. This is the politics of the great: although there are situations without any clear way out, they will do everything possible to survive and return to the negotiating table.
We are small and we have no such patience and wisdom.