This month the Vatican and China signed a provisional agreement that allows the Holy See to approve bishops appointed by the Chinese Communist Party. Some commentators say the Vatican just made a deal with the devil.
The deal was denounced by critics as a sellout. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former archbishop of Hong Kong, told Reuters that “They’re (sending) the flock into the mouths of the wolves. It is an incredible betrayal… the consequences will be tragic and long lasting, not only for the church in China but for the whole church because it damages the credibility.”
In agreeing to allow the Chinese Communist Party a say in the appointment of bishops for the Chinese Catholic church, the Vatican has done a tremendous disservice not only to Catholics worldwide but to people of all faiths. Elsewhere in the world, the trend is separation of church and state. The provisional agreement gives the Chinese Communist Party greater control of religion. In fact, the Party is doing this through what it calls ‘sinicization’ of all religions in China. This ‘sinicisation’ or nationalization of all religions in China enables the Party to force people of different faiths be brought under tighter Party control and supervision.
For the Tibetan people and people outside of the plateau who share the same faith, the implications of this agreement are ominous. The agreement will strengthen the Party’s hand in the post-Dalai Lama succession struggle. The Party could make the argument to the international community that its choice of the 15th Dalai Lama falls within the sovereign rights of China. It could say, look at our arrangement with the Vatican.
In making this agreement, the Vatican inadvertently has helped pave the way for the emergence of two Dalai Lamas, one appointed by Beijing, the other recognized by the Tibetan Buddhist church, the Tibetan people and millions of others.
Faith is a matter of personal choice. It shapes and drives a person’s soul. The state has no right to decide what a person believes in or how he or she worships. But the Vatican has sold these souls to the Chinese Communist Party. Cardinal Joseph Zen calls the agreement a “betrayal of Jesus.”
*Thubten Samphel is director of the Tibet Policy Institute, a research center of the Central Tibetan Administration. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the TPI.