Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cardinal Zen: Cut Talks with China

Catholic News Agency has the latest:
"China’s newly elevated Cardinal Joseph Zen has called for the Vatican to cut talks with his country’s government in light of the state’s decision to elevate Father Ma Yinglin to bishop on Sunday--something it did without the Holy See’s approval.

According to the Associated Press, Cardinal Zen said that the Chinese government also plans to appoint Father Liu Xinhong to bishop of the eastern Anhui province on Wednesday, despite the Vatican’s decision that Liu is not qualified for the post.

In 1951, newly communist China cut its ties with the Vatican, opting to form a state-sanctioned Catholic church without the approval or oversight of Rome. An underground Catholic Church--faithful to the Vatican--has also formed since then which is now said to contain some 10 million members.

The two major stumbling blocks to Holy See-China relations remain who has the authority to appoint bishops--the state or the Vatican--as well as China’s insistence that the Vatican halt its diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

On Tuesday, Cardinal Zen, who was appointed by the Vatican and an enthusiastic supporter of renewed relations, told the South China Morning Post that discussions 'cannot continue because people will think [the Vatican is] prepared to surrender. We cannot budge. When you brutally place such a fait accompli, how can you call this dialogue?' "
Cardinal Zen correctly observes that the Vatican will only enable China's continued intransigence if it does not cut talks. What incentive does Beijing have to cooperate with the Vatican if it doesn't?

China's diplomatic strategy vis a vis the Holy See has been a simple one: marginalize the Church's influence over the Chinese--especially the Catholics! The hardliners in Beijing have not forgotten Pope John Paul the Great's "schooling" of the USSR/Warsaw Pact. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association provides a necessary buffer to the Roman Catholic Church's influence over the population. The State won't lightly give that up.

Unfortunately for the hardliners, China faces a growing conundrum. The Chinese economy continues to grow; they're seeking to attract larger and larger amounts of foreign capital. The Communist government in Beijing wants this to continue. At the same time, they've shown no interest in reforming the political facts on theg ground within the Middle Kingdom. The tension between people's economic liberty and political imprisonment may lead to a critical instability--the one factor that will cripple foreign investment in China. The establishment of normal diplomatic relations with the Vatican could help Beijing spin away their horrendus political tyranny. The price may be too high.

Cardinal Zen would not lightly abandon his long-held position in favor of improved relations between China and the Vatican. If he's calling for the Holy See to cease talks, then the wise men of the Secretariat of State should pay attention.