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Shanghai: Why Did the Chinese Communist Party Violate Its Agreement with the Vatican?

Massimo Introvigne

Rome admits that the new Bishop of Shanghai was appointed, by the Chinese Communist Party (ChCP), without its approval. Why did Beijing violate so spectacularly the 2018 Agreement?

Bishop John Peng Weizhao of Yujiang, (Jiangxi) was the first to be installed as Auxiliary Bishop of Jiangxi  on November 24, 2022, without the Holy See’s authorization. Now this has happened with Shanghai, which is a much larger diocese. On April 4, Monsignor Shen Bin, up to now Bishop of Haimen, was installed as the new Bishop of Shanghai. 

In the case of Jiangxi, the Holy See knew about the installation ceremony and said to China that it had not authorized it, but was ignored. The Shanghai case is worse. The Vatican stated officially that “the Holy See learned about the taking of possession through the media,” on the same morning that it took place. 

The text of the 2018 Vatican-China Agreement, renewed in 2020 and 2022, is secret, but it’s known that it regulates the administration of Catholic dioceses and the appointment of Bishops. The latter continue being selected by the ChCP, but they are appointed officially by the Vatican. 

In Shanghai’s case, Monsignor Shen Bin was not appointed Bishop of that city by the Vatican. Nevertheless, he was invested. During the ceremony he promised that he “would adhere to the principle of independence and self-government, which is in the nucleus of the Patriotic Catholic Church, and which traditionally has meant independence from the Vatican. This is, in fact, the principle that the 2018 Agreement should have modified. 

As they say in Italy, two evidences make one proof. It’s obvious now that the 2018 Vatican-China Agreement is considered by the ChCP as binding only for the Vatican, of which it is hoped that it will not criticize the religious persecution in China, but not binding for Beijing, which appoints Catholic Bishops at will, with or without papal mandate. 

Given that the subject of the Bishops is the core of the Agreement, it’s clear that an Agreement no longer exists in the real world. It only exists in the fictitious world of the CHCP’s propaganda about a non-existent religious freedom in China. 

Why did the ChCP decide to violate the Agreement in such a flagrant manner? There are two possibilities. One is that it was already informed, also secretly, that the Holy See would not renew it in 2024. Although the Vatican is interested traditionally in long-term plans and very willing to ignore their short-term failures, the effects of the 2018 Agreement have been so disastrous that this would be the better and more reasonable hypothesis. 

The second possibility is much worse. It implies that the ChCP believes that it can intimidate the Vatican publicly and repeatedly not fulfil the Agreement and do its own thing, as the Pope personally backed the Agreement. To return to the situation prior to 2018 would mean that these clandestine Catholics, who trusted the Holy See and “emerged” in 2018, are now known by the Authorities and could end up in prison or something worse could befall them if they now try to leave the Patriotic Church. 

Time will tell. For the time being, the Vatican’s official statement is that “it has nothing to say about the Holy See’s evaluation of the matter.”