On Sunday July 15, Vaticanmedia published the first part of the final article in a series of seven articles about the dialogue between the Holy See and China.

I published links to the first five here: https://joansrome.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/

Here is a link to the sixth article on July 7 on “China and the bishops: Why is this issue so important?” : https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2018-07/vatican-china-diplomacy-bishops.html

Holy See-China relations is a topic that greatly interests me, as you know if you follow Joan’s Rome. I’ve been to mainland China, having spent several weeks there in 1995 with the Holy See delegation to the United Nations Conference on Women and then, in 2001, I spent nearly two weeks in Taiwan. I keep in touch with a number of people on the China-Holy See situation and it has been very interesting to share these stories by the Vaticanmedia with them.

Earlier this year, when some kind of accord or agreement with China seemed imminent, the Holy See experienced a lot of pushback from people in Rome, and around the world but especially in China who know the realities. Salesian Cardinal Joseph Zen, who served as the sixth bishop of Hong Kong, retiring in 2009, has been the most outspoken critic of ties between the two, especially on the issue of who will name bishops, the Vatican or the Chinese government.

In February of this year, Cardinal Joseph Zen wrote on his blog a severe critique of the rumored Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, calling it an act of “suicide” and a “shameless surrender” to the communist government.

Reports noted that the cardinal said the problem isn’t necessarily the Pope, who “is optimistic and full of love, and is eager to visit China.” Rather, he faulted the Pope’s advisors for an “obsession” with an “Ostpolitik” solution to the issue of episcopal appointments that “compromises without limits,” yet gains little in return.
Pope Francis, he said, “has never had direct knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party and, moreover, is poorly informed by the people around him.”

Because of the “rumored Vatican-China deal,” the reactions to this rumor and the press office statement on March 29, 2018 that downplayed reports of a deal, I find this series of articles intriguing.

On March 29, in fact, Greg Burke, head of the Holy See Press Office said: “I can say that there is no imminent signing of an agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China. I’d like to stress that Pope Francis is in constant contact with his collaborators on Chinese issues and accompanies the steps of the dialogue taking place.”
To me, this series seems like a full court press to get people ready for a deal.


In China, there are some Bishops who are canonically illegitimate, and others who are lacking civil recognition. This is a sign of the coexistence of two communities of Christians in the country. When negotiations begin in a spirit of dialogue, they are undertaken in order to seek to resolve these concrete problems, in order to overcome that situation and start a positive renewal.

By Sergio Centofanti and Fr Bernd Hagenkord, SJ
According to international practice, the negotiations between States take place confidentially, and normally only the final results are made public. For this reason, the particulars of the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese Authorities are not known. Nonetheless, if there is to be an understanding, we can imagine that it would permit the Church both to rebuild the unity of the pastoral leadership of the Dioceses that see the presence of two communities; and to provide for the numerous Dioceses that are currently without a Bishop, so that each one of them might have a Pastor admitted and recognized by both the Church and the State.

One cannot expect such an operation to be painless. There will necessarily be unhappiness, suffering, sacrifices, resentments, and even the possibility of new tensions. But this kind of “threading the needle,” to which the Catholic Church in China is called, we all hope that it would be both purifying and a harbinger of good things: there will not be winners and losers, but the contribution of each side would be valued. As Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said, “It is not a matter of wiping the slate clean, ignoring or, almost magically erasing the painful path of so many faithful and pastors, but of investing the human and spiritual capital of so many trials to build a more serene and fraternal future, with the help of God.”

If there is to be a new beginning that, while respecting different sensibilities, is both more fraternal and more unifying for the Catholic Church in China, this will, in the first place, have positive effects for the sacramental and spiritual life of the faithful, who are working towards being ever more fully Catholic and more authentically Chinese.

Moreover, it could free up new energies for the activities of the Church and for a greater harmony within Chinese society. But much depends on the commitment and good will of everyone involved. The Catholic presence in China, considered purely in numerical terms as a part of the total population, seems meagre, but is nonetheless always alive. A renewed work of evangelisation could bear great fruit in spite of so many limits and controls that might yet remain, in great part due to the fear that religion could be used by “external forces” which foster social insecurities.

If the path to civil recognition for a Bishop is a question that concerns the State, with its laws and procedures, the path to canonical legitimacy concerns the Church. In order to understand this, it is necessary to recognise what the Church is. Already as far back as the second century, St Irenaeus defined the Church as the spiritual communion that proclaims and transmits the Tradition that comes from the Apostles through the uninterrupted succession of the Bishops. This apostolic succession of the Bishops as the guarantee of Tradition is constitutive of the Church herself. At the same time, it is the Church that guarantees the apostolic succession and the authenticity of the episcopate, whether through the free nomination of the Pope or by means of his confirmation of the legitimate election of a Bishop.

Even if he is validly ordained, a Bishop cannot legitimately exercise his ministry if he is not in communion with the Successor of Peter and the other Bishops working throughout the whole world. It is up to the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ and universal Pastor of the Church, to legitimate and re-admit into full Catholic communion those he judges worthy, and to whom he entrusts a pastoral charge. With regard to China, one begins with this certainty: the new episcopal consecrations that have taken place in China without a pontifical mandate were illicit but valid (with the exception of very specific cases). Despite these sorrowful situations of irregularity, the Catholic Church in China has always remained ‘one’ because it has never formally established itself as ‘separate’ from Rome; and further, because it has never elaborated a doctrinal position repudiating the primacy of jurisdiction.

But there is another piece of evidence which must be considered, namely, that the living desire to be in union with the Pope has always been present in those Chinese Bishops ordained in an illegitimate manner. The irregular condition of these Bishops notwithstanding, the recognition of their desire to be in union with the Supreme Pontiff makes the difference between two conflicting opinions that have emerged in recent years: those who believe the illegitimate Bishops to be sincere accept their repentance (although not condoning the inappropriate behaviour of some of them); while those who do not believe their sincerity have often condemned them.



The Vatican news site today published the fifth in a series of articles about the Holy See and China. I researched the previous stories, given my interest in these relations, and put the links to previous articles at the end of today’s piece.


(July 3, 2018) The Chinese Catholic community, together with their bishops – both recognized and not recognized by the government – are in favour of a dialogue with the authorities. But the dialogue will remain purely theoretical, if the risk of a true negotiation for building up the common good is not accepted, as Pope Francis has emphasized.  (By Sergio Centofanti and Fr. Bernd Hagenkord, SJ)

Open and respectful dialogue is an attitude that allows us to accept the other in their diversity, recognizing their identity and their mission: walking together we are enriched, each one in function of the other. For true dialogue, it is necessary for each one to be secure in their own identity, and to recognize the identity of the other. True dialogue takes place in the dynamic of the Incarnation, by which God dialogues with humans and seeks them, in order to establish with them a relationship of salvation.

On the other hand, negotiation – according to Pope Francis – is a practical manner of proceeding in which each one seeks to obtain something from the other: negotiation is always about getting “a bigger slice of the pie,” so to speak. But this should be done in such a way that everyone comes out a “winner.” And so every negotiation, and every accord that follows, will always be imperfect, temporary, like a spiral in a long process that is being constructed over a long period of time.

Consistently with his open and respectful style of communication, of acceptance of the other in their diversity, of recognition of the identity and mission of each one, Pope Francis has continued the commitment to promote and sustain the official dialogue with the Chinese government. In this way, real negotiation has begun again, a negotiation that in truth has never been easy, and at times has even seen abrupt interruptions. It’s happened, in fact, that the two Parties at times have re-iterated their good intentions to dialogue and reach an agreement; but then, at the moment of understanding, have pulled back because of some obstacle.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that a good part of the Church in China, not only within the “official” community, but also within the “non-official” community,” is favourable to the dialogue that’s been undertaken. Though it would be risky to speak of percentages, one could take notice of the opinion of the Chinese Bishops, whether recognized or not recognized by the Government, who have expressed their support for the resumption of dialogue and the eventual conclusion of an Accord.

A Bishop recognised by the government, who has very positively welcomed news of the resumption of the dialogue between China and the Holy See, has pointed out that the majority of Catholics support the Pope and the China-Holy See Dialogue, and are praying intensely that an agreement might be reached.

Another Bishop, not recognised by the Government, has pointed out that the resumption of the dialogue is a good thing. Now, obviously we need to consider the facts, and not just words. But seeing and speaking with one another is better than not seeing, because only by seeing and speaking can problems be addressed.

And this precisely is the dynamic and difficult art of dialogue: dialogue allows us to draw closer together, to know the identity of the other and make known to the other their own identity, so that, by engaging in dialogue, mutual intentions are made clear, beyond conventional words. It is also quite normal, in the dynamic of a dialogue, for the Parties at times to drift apart, because of the feeling of having conceded too much to the other, of having renounced their legitimate needs, and in order to better present and defend their own expectations.

In order to reach a solution that would be acceptable to both Parties, however, they must even be willing to modify what is excessive in their own expectations. For the Church’s part, this means that she must distinguish between what is essential for the Christian faith, and what is not. A serious and authentic dialogue can work when each one of the Parties accepts their Counterpart, respects the dynamic of the discussion and of differing opinions, and seeks to understand the good reasons that are the basis of different proposals for solutions to the problems.

All of this can be very gruelling. Only with a spirit of mutual trust and generosity can the rhythm of dialogue be maintained in the course of numerous and often exhausting sessions that make up negotiations. Both Parties must maintain this responsible behaviour, remaining calm when consensus seems far away, or even unobtainable, consolidating the small steps that bring them closer, always preserving a positive attitude that nourishes a growing confidence in the sincerity of the other Party.

This is the fifth in a series of in-depth articles on the dialogue between the Holy See and China. Here are links to the previous four articles:

MAY 2: Dialogue with China: There is no magic wand
Although a number of recent signs may indicate that important steps are being made in the Holy See’s dialogue with China, any formal Agreement between the two does not seem imminent. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2018-05/holy-see-china-diplomacy.html

MAY 7: Dialogue with China: Small steps towards mutual trust
Why is the Vatican engaging in a dialogue with Chinese authorities? In China, Catholics have remained faithful despite the suffering caused by a regime that is hostile to religion. So what can such dialogue achieve? https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2018-05/holy-see-china-diplomacy-mutual-trust.html

JUNE 26: Dialogue: Necessary for the Church’s mission in China
The mission of the Church is always the same; but in order to implement it in today’s Chinese context, constructive dialogue between the Church and civil authorities is needed. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2018-06/holy-see-china-dialogue-pope-francis-catholic-church-vatican.html

JUNE 30: Protagonists of dialogue: Chinese Authorities and the Holy See
The Church, and the Popes in particular, have always been able to make the distinction between the condemnation of unacceptable theoretical positions, on the one hand; and being able to seek dialogue on the basis of practical projects, on the other. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2018-06/pope-francis-holy-see-china-dialogue-protagonists.html


I leave tomorrow morning for Poland for a visit of several days. I intend to visit some of the Kralow 2016 WYD sites, catch up with Polish friends and to meet with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and a friend of many years, starting with his time in Rome as the secretary to Saint John Paul II. I’ll do my best to post something every day, even a small column or just a few photos, so stay tuned to “Joan’s Rome” and my FB page.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is shaken and saddened by the ‘homicidal folly and senseless hatred’ that has left at least 50 people dead in an attack on a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Following is a statement released by Holy See Press Office Director, Father Federico Lombardi, on the Orlando massacre that has been described as the worst mass shooting in American history:

“The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort. We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity.”

The attack, which took place early Sunday in a crowded nightclub, was perpetrated by a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun.   Authorities are reportedly investigating the attack as an act of terrorism. Officials said at least 53 other people were hospitalized, most in critical condition. A surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.


(Vatican Radio)  U.S. bishops have condemned early Sunday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and are offering prayers for the victims and their families.

At least 50 people were killed, including the killer, and 53 others wounded when an Afghan American opened fire on club goers with an assault weapon. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Bishop John Noonan of Orlando issued a statement Sunday in which he said:

“A sword has pierced the heart of our city. Since learning of the tragedy this morning, I have urged all to pray for the victims, the families and first responders. I pray that the Lord’s mercy will be upon us during this time of sadness, shock and confusion. I urge people of faith to turn their hearts and souls to the great physician, our Lord Jesus Christ, who consoles and carries us through suffering with mercy and tenderness. The healing power of Jesus goes beyond our physical wounds but touches every level of our humanity: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Jesus calls us to remain fervent in our protection of life and human dignity and to pray unceasingly for peace in our world.

“Priests, deacons and counselors from the Diocese of Orlando and Catholic Charities of Central Florida are serving at the Aid Center established by the City of Orlando. They are on site helping victims and families on the front lines of this tragedy. Throughout the day, they are offering God’s love and mercy to those who are facing unimaginable sorrow. They will remain vigilant and responsive to the needs of our hurting brothers and sisters.

“I have asked all of our parishes to include prayer intentions during the celebration of Sunday Mass today where close to 400,000 registered Catholics participate in nine counties of Central Florida. At our 91 parishes and missions, today’s prayers have been offered for victims of violence and acts of terror…for their families and friends…and all those affected by such acts against God’s love. We pray for the people of the city of Orlando that God’s mercy and love will be upon us as we seek healing and consolation.


“Recognizing the affliction brought to our city, our families and our friends,” said Bishop Noonan, “we invite the community to join us for a Vigil to Dry Tears’ for all who are affected by this massive assault on the dignity of human life. It will be held on Monday, June 13, at 7:00 p.m. in St. James Cathedral.

“I hope this opportunity to join each other in prayer will bring about an outpouring of the mercy of God within the heart of our community.”

In a statement, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said “waking up to the unspeakable violence in Orlando reminds us of how precious human life is. Our prayers are with the victims, their families and all those affected by this terrible act. The merciful love of Christ calls us to solidarity with the suffering and to ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.”

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago also issued a statement, saying, “Our prayers and hearts are with the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, their families and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  We are grateful to the first responders and civilians who heroically put themselves in harm’s way, providing an enduring reminder of what compassion and bravery look like–even in the face of such horror and danger. In response to hatred, we are called to sow love. In response to violence, peace. And, in response to intolerance, tolerance.

“The people of the Archdiocese of Chicago stand with the victims and their loved ones, and reaffirm our commitment, with Pope Francis, to address the causes of such tragedy, including easy access to deadly weapons. We can no longer stand by and do nothing.”


(Vatican Radio)  The United States’ Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, has condemned the mass shooting Sunday 12 June at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and says he personally, thinks “we have to do something about the access to weapons in our society.” (news.va photo)


At least fifty people were killed and 53 wounded by a gunman toting an assault weapon.

Ambassador Hackett told Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure that “we are all united in grief with the families who have suffered from this horrific massacre.  This is not the first [such shooting]; it seems to be the largest.  We’re just taken [aback] with the violence, the acts of terror and hate that are perpetrated on people and you really have to send your prayers out and hopes that the families will be able to get through this terrible thing.  [I’m] just calling for peoples’ prayers for the families of those people who are suffering so much.”

Asked if the time has come to open up a national debate on the issue of gun control and clamp down on the sale of weapons, Ambassador Hackett says for him personally,

“It’s beyond time for an active national debate.  The debate has been suppressed for years.  Our President has called for greater attention to this issue.  After the shooting of the children [at Newtown, Connecticut] and then again, the shooting in the Church in South Carolina, and again in San Bernardino, California – and now, this horror.  It says to us: we have to do something about the access to weapons in our society.  It’s too easy and people who should not be allowed to have a weapon have some way of getting around the rules.”