Hong Kong Catholics voice opposition on Vatican-China agreement

The Catholic community in Hong Kong expressed disappointment and worry over the Vatican's deal with China's government. The two sides have reportedly been forging an agreement that openly allowed the government to appoint bishops in the mainland but the Vatican would still need to approve them.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)Believers attend a service at the unofficial Catholic Church in Majhuang village, Hebei Province, China, December 11, 2016.

Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen found the deal with China to be questionable. Though Pope Francis has the final approval on bishop assignments in all Catholic churches around the world, Zen thinks the Chinese government could still influence church activities in the country. 

In particular, the government could still nominate bishops whose loyalties are with its communist leaders. In the meantime, there are still underground bishops who are well-deserving leaders servicing illegal Catholic communities. Hong Kong Catholics are concerned that the deal will never address the actual issues of divide, prohibition and interference.

"It's obvious what they are going to do," Zen told the press from Hong Kong. "They will not only eliminate bishops, but in some dioceses have no bishop, but some kind of [government] delegate."

For 70 years, the diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and the Chinese government has been strained. Chinese authorities usually supervise and control church activities, while the government also has a say in the appointments of Catholic Church leaders.

The constraints led to the growth of underground and illegal Chinese Catholic communities. Government authorities have also treated many members of the underground church unfairly.

News of the Vatican and China's deal have led a group of Hong Kong lecturers, lawyers and human rights activists to launch a petition for Vatican leaders to reconsider its agreement with the Chinese government. The campaign received 2,300 signatures as of press time.

"If the Vatican makes a compromise with Beijing, the Catholic Church loses that moral and spiritual appeal," one of the group's heads, Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, stated. "It doesn't benefit the church."

There are some 12 million Catholics in China as of 2012. The number, however, has declined since the government has aggressively controlled the community in recent years.