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Did Pope Francis Just Validate China’s Godless Communist Regime?


According to reports, the Vatican and Communist China have reached an agreement that would end six decades of diplomatic gridlock. While details of the agreement haven’t been officially announced, from what has been leaked to the public, Catholics in China and around the world have reason to be concerned.

Catholicism has had a long and convoluted history in China. Catholic missionaries traveled to China to spread the words of the gospels as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). But Italian missionary Matteo Ricci’s arrival in 1582 is often regarded as the official introduction of the Catholic Church to China.

Growth of the church was limited because Chinese emperors wouldn’t accept that there was another “earthly” king (Christ) more “powerful” than them. The imperial rulers of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) banned Catholic missionaries. But after losing the first Opium War (1839-1842), the imperial court was forced to lift their ban on the Catholic Church and granted western missionaries diplomatic privileges as part of the peace treaties with Western powers.

How the Chinese Communist Party Suppressed Christianity

Before the Communists took over China in 1949, it is estimated that there were about three million Catholics in China. And initially, the atheist Chinese government showed a degree of tolerance towards religion in the name of national unity. But leaders were determined to put religion under government control. They subsequently severed ties with the Vatican, kicked out all foreign missionaries, and shut down Churches run by foreign bishops.

In 1951, a Chinese Christian and ally of the Communist Party, Y.T. Wu, initiated the “Three-self Patriotic” movement. He wanted to eliminate foreign influences and create a “made in China” version of Christianity, by promoting “self-governance, self-support, self-propagation.” In 1954, a group of Chinese Christian leaders further aligned with the Communist Party by pledging their support to the government and its socialistic cause. They made it clear that localization of Christianity was the only way to stand up to Western imperialism.

These self-destructive efforts legitimized the government’s control of Christian organizations. In 1957, the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau created “The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” (CPA or CPCA) to monitor and direct Catholic Church activities in China. The name of CPCA was very telling: demonstrating patriotism was a requirement for religious practitioners. In China then and now, “patriotism” is synonymous with loving the Communist Party. The Chinese government determined that religious belief must put men before God.

But even that was not enough for the Communist regime after a few years. Eventually, leasder exterminated all religions in China, including Catholicism, during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to1976. Worship sites were destroyed. Many believers were persecuted; some even lost their lives.

Changes in the Church After the ‘Cultural Revolution’

The “Cultural Revolution” was really about cultural destruction, and only ended after Chairman Mao’s death in 1976. After China started to push for economic reform beginning in 1980, the Chinese government declared that “five religions-Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity (Protestantism)—were allowed to reopen a limited number of venues for religious services so long as they were under the control of ‘patriotic’ associations.”

Since the 1980s, China’s Christian population has grown as impressively as its economic growth. It’s difficult to know how many Christians are in China today, because the Christian population—especially the Catholics—comes from two parallel systems. One is the official, government-sanctioned and registered church. These churches don’t recognize the Pope’s authority, and accept bishops consecrates by CPCA without the Pope’s approval. The other is the underground Church network, which refuses to register with the government and remains loyal to the Pope.            .

Pew research estimates that as of 2010, China is home to approximately 70 million Christians, including 12 million Catholics. That’s about 5 percent of China’s population and 3 percent of the world’s Christian population. Among the 10 countries with the largest Christian population, China ranks seventh.

Church Growth Concerns Communist Leaders

Such remarkable growth has caused deep concern within the Chinese government. Chinese President Xi made it clear that religious groups “must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and support the socialist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics.” In other words: the Chinese government tolerates religious faith only if its adherents put the government before God.

President Xi called on Chinese government officials to “step up the guidance, planning, direction and supervision on religious work.” He also drew a line in the sand regarding CPC members, demanding that they act as “unyielding Marxist atheists, consolidate their faith, and bear in mind the Party’s tenets.” In response, Chinese authorities tore down many Churches in China in 2015 and arrested lawyers and activists who defended some of the underground churches.

Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope John Paul II, once wrote, “(The) curtailment of the religious freedom of individuals and communities is not only a painful experience but is, above all, an attack on man’s very dignity. … (It is) a radical injustice with regard to what is particularly deep in man, what is authentically human.”

Yet Pope Francis seems ready and willing to overlook the Chinese government’s past and current repressive practices in order to reestablish a diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and China. One of his goodwill gestures towards mainland China was to decline an audience with the Dalai Lama in 2014.

Could the Vatican and Beijing Reach an Agreement?

Several months ago, it was revealed that the Vatican and Beijing had reached an initial agreement on the appointment of Catholic ­bishops in mainland China. Pope Francis “would commit to recognize as bishops only those clerics who first win nomination from the Patriotic Association’s bishops conference.”

This agreement is a departure from the Church’s long held belief that “the authority of the Pope to appoint bishops is given to the church by its founder Jesus Christ. It is not the property of the Pope, neither can the Pope give it to others” (Pope Benedict XVI). Yet it seems that Pope Francis is going to do exactly that, subordinating his authority to a repressive communist government.

Catholics in Taiwan are especially concerned: mainland China always demands any country that wants to establish a diplomatic relationship with it must first sever its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan first. So far, the Vatican is the only European country that still has a diplomatic relationship with Taiwan. Catholics in Taiwan are rightfully worried that they will be abandoned by a Pope who is eager to break the diplomatic ice with mainland China.

Pope Francis Should Protect Chinese Christians

While the Vatican hasn’t announced any final official agreement with the Chinese Communist government yet, what has been disclosed so far has made some Chinese Catholics feel a sense of betrayal.

It’s clear that Pope Francis is no Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II joined Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan to defeat Communism. But Pope Francis has joined President Obama in capitulating to oppressive authoritarian regimes like Cuba, all in the name of “openness.” His efforts only lend legitimacy to these regimes, while failing to offer relief to the people they oppress.

Some say that an official agreement between the Vatican and communist China could be announced as early as November 20: Christ the King Sunday, a day to celebrate the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of all things. Fortunately, it didn’t happen.

All I can do now is to pray: pray that Pope Francis will not put men before God.