While recognizing the weaknesses, Pope Francis told Reuters that in diplomacy you look for a way out of a blocked situation, not an ideal solution.
Pope Francis acknowledges that the Vatican’s deal with China on the ordination of bishops is not ideal, but he says he still hopes that it will be renewed when its current term ends in October.
The Pope spoke with the controversial deal – the details of which have never been published – when he gave an interview to Reuters on July 2.
The situation of the Church in China is extremely difficult, with an underground Church in communion with Rome existing despite the persecution they endure. The underground Church is contrasted with those who agree to belong to the government’s own Patriotic Association. Bishops were frequently ordained without Vatican approval.
The deal aims to normalize the situation, at least to an extent, but critics say that it has left Christians of the underground Church in the lurch, after decades of enduring abuse for their fidelity to the pope.
While recognizing the weaknesses, Pope Francis told Reuters that “diplomacy is like that.”
“When you face a blocked situation, you have to find the possible way, not the ideal way, out of it,” he said, acknowledging that the appointment of bishops is “going slowly,” but that they are being appointed.
“Diplomacy is the art of the possible and of doing things to make the possible become a reality,” he said.
Francis also noted that the situation is not the same for Christians in the whole of the country.
They (the Chinese) also have their own problems because it is not the same situation in every region of the country. It (the treatment of Catholics) also depends on local leaders.
Pope Francis said that the China situation could be compared to the Vatican’s policy with the Eastern bloc countries under communism.
“Many people said so many things against John XXIII, against Paul VI, against Casaroli,” Francis said.
He referenced Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the architect of the ‘Ostpolitik’ led by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI in the 1960s and 1970s. His action, according to Pope Francis, allowed the Church to maintain a presence in countries under communism, and to limit persecutions until the Fall of the Wall.
The Vatican’s agreement with China was signed in 2018, valid for two years and renewed for two more years in 2020. It allows the pope to have the final say on the appointment of bishops in China. Six bishops have been appointed in this way in four years. The agreement, which is provisional and whose terms remain secret, will expire in October 2022.
In the absence of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China since the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, this agreement, although only pastoral, constitutes a historic rapprochement between the two countries.
“The agreement is progressing well and I hope that in October it can be renewed,” said the Pontiff. He acknowledges that the process of appointing bishops “is going slowly” but considers that it is “‘the Chinese way,’ because the Chinese have that sense of time that nobody can rush them.”