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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican is to renew its secret deal with China after negotiations on bishops' appointments proved that "the framework has worked well for the past two years," a Chinese Communist Party newspaper reported Wednesday.
Global Times claimed Argentine bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo confirmed the renewal, saying "they are going to renew it, which means the initial experience went well."
The bilateral secret agreement is due to expire Sept. 22.
Sorondo, a philosopher, is current chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, vice chairman of the bishops' conference of the Catholic Church in China and bishop of the diocese of Mindong in China's Fujian province, told Global Times that both sides were optimistic about renewing the agreement and upgrading it from a temporary to a formal agreement.
Zhan, one of the seven formerly excommunicated bishops ordained without papal approval — whom Pope Francis has readmitted to communion — said that the new development shows that both China and the Holy See were satisfied with the framework in the past two years, when at least two Chinese bishops were ordained by Pope Francis as a result of the agreement.
Zhan is now fully recognized by the Chinese communist government as part of the provisional agreement, according to the Vatican's press office.
"The agreement is a key link that secures China-Vatican ties and could help push ties to the next step," Zhan emphasized.
Vatican expert Francesco Sisci, senior researcher at the Center of European Studies at the Renmin University of China also told the Global Times that the endurance of Rome's dialogue with Beijing in the face of escalating disputes between China and the United States proved that the Holy See could be a reliable partner and of importance for the communist giant.
Speaking to Church Militant, distinguished papal biographer and expert on communism Paul Kengor warned against any deal with communism.
"The Chinese leadership are communists. This is the kind of thing that they engage in. Like communists in the Soviet Union, they engage in disinformation, misinformation and manipulation — and they likewise view the Vatican and religion generally as a foe," said Kengor, author of best-selling A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.
"Remember the words of Pope Francis' close adviser on China, Argentinian bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. In February 2018, Sorondo made an incredible statement after a visit to China, where he no doubt received the classic Potemkin village treatment."
Sorondo said that everywhere he looked he found communist rulers who "seek the common good." He raved about "an extraordinary China" that he said exhibited the Chinese principle of "work, work, work" and was inspired to invoke St. Paul: "As Paul said: 'He who does not work does not eat.' You do not have shantytowns; you do not have drugs; young people do not have drugs. There is a positive national consciousness.
"Sorondo perceived not only a 'positive national consciousness' in China but, shockingly, claimed that communist China happens to 'best realize the social doctrine of the Church,'" Kengor noted.
"It had been presumably under the counsel of advisers like this that Pope Francis and the Holy See began its soft, accommodationist policy toward China," Kengor observed.
"The Chinese communists, like Soviet communists, are shrewd and they prey on weakness and gullibility. If they think they can dupe you, they will dupe you. The Vatican needs to be very careful and very smart in dealing with these folks," he warned.
In 2018, Sorondo told Global Times that the critics of the deal "are a little minority group of people — people who wanted to create trouble."
In 2019, Sorondo addressed an organ donation and transplantation conference in Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province: "Pope Francis has love and confidence in China; and China trusts Pope Francis."
"In this dynamic, the next step is to reach [an agreement on establishing] diplomatic relations," and especially the visit of Pope Francis to China and China's leaders to visit the Pope as friends when the time is right, Sorondo said.
In June, Abp. Claudio Maria Celli told Italian television network TGCOM24 that the 2018 provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops will likely be renewed.
"The provisional agreement with China expires in September of this year, and we must find a formula. We must see what to do," Celli said.
But secular academic journal Foreign Policy has now joined many Catholic voices slamming Pope Francis for his silence on religious persecution in China.
"A pope dedicated to human rights has said nothing on China, thanks to a secret deal with Beijing," the journal opined Wednesday.
"It is Francis' silence that shocks me most. Almost every Sunday, as he prays the Angelus, he rightly references some injustice somewhere in the world. One country — and one country alone — is noticeable by its absence in his prayers and statements: China," the journal noted.
The author, Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chair of Hong Kong Watch, wrote:
Yet in the face of all of these crimes, Francis remains silent. He has not uttered a public prayer (I hope he has at least said a private one) for the Uighurs, Hong Kongers, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and others who are increasingly feeling the pressure of the Chinese Communist Party's boot — at all.
"Two years ago, the Vatican made a deal with Beijing that bought the pope's silence," Rogers lamented.
"In China today, we see one of the 21st century's worst crimes — perhaps a genocide — being perpetrated against the Uighurs. ... We also see the worst crackdown on Christians since the Cultural Revolution, while the repression in Tibet continues."