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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Vatican official who helped draft the provisional Vatican-China deal in 2018 is saying the Holy See will likely renew the accord signed with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
"The Catholic Church in China must be fully Chinese, but fully Catholic! There are no discounts to make," Abp. Claudio Maria Celli recently said on Italian television.
Celli played a role in negotiating the signing of the 2018 Vatican-China accord, which bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cdl. Joseph Zen, told Church Militant in February was part of a "total sellout" of the underground Church in China.
"The deal is an interim deal, which expires, as you said, in September of this year. We have to find a formula. We have to see what to do after this deadline. I think we should probably reconfirm it for one or two years," said Celli, former president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (2007–2016).
"On our journey, we must all be faithful to the gospel," he continued. "It is not an easy path, but it seems to me that we have embarked on a respectful path trying to understand each other ... to see how to still resolve those knots that remain and those situations that undeniably leave [us] much more than thoughtful, I would say worried. However, we must carry it forward."
Celli said the path forward was outlined in Pope Francis's letter to Catholics in China.
But while Pope Francis speaks in the letter of his affection for Chinese Catholics, mercy, being good citizens under the communist regime and protecting the environment, he does not lay out any concrete plan or give any details of the Vatican-China agreement, which has remained secret, even to China's only two living cardinals — Cdl. Joseph Zen and Cdl. John Tong Hon.
"On the civil and political level, Chinese Catholics must be good citizens, loving their homeland and serving their country with diligence and honesty to the best of their ability," reads one portion of the letter. "On the ethical level, they should be aware that many of their fellow citizens expect from them a greater commitment to the service of the common good and the harmonious growth of society as a whole."
"In particular, Catholics ought to make a prophetic and constructive contribution born of their faith in the kingdom of God. At times, this may also require of them the effort to offer a word of criticism, not out of sterile opposition, but for the sake of building a society that is more just, humane and respectful of the dignity of each person," continues that section.
"China and the Apostolic See, called by history to an arduous yet exciting task, will be able to act more positively for the orderly and harmonious growth of the Catholic community in China," reads another portion. "They will make efforts to promote the integral development of society by ensuring greater respect for the human person, also in the religious sphere, and will work concretely to protect the environment in which we live and to build a future of peace and fraternity between peoples."
Cardinal Zen explained there were three steps in what he calls the Vatican's "total sellout" of the underground Church in China.
"The first step was that secret agreement [Vatican-China agreement reached in September 2018] for the selection of bishops, and then the legitimization of the seven excommunicated bishops — asking the legitimate underground bishops to step down," he said, "and then, last June  came out that document — the so-called pastoral guidance encouraging people to join the [communist-run, Catholic] Patriotic Association."
In July 2019, Church Militant asked Zen if persecution of the underground Church increased after the signing of the deal.
"Yes, it is obvious for anybody who follows the events on the news," he responded. "It is really a terrible thing. The most worrisome element is that the agreement was a secret one, so we do not know what is in the agreement."
Church Militant reached out to various Chinese Catholic communities and organizations in the United States and Canada for comment. One secretary explained that Chinese Catholics are reluctant to comment due to fear.
Under condition of anonymity, one director who has spoken with Celli and other prelates, posited that the Holy See might be trying to make the best of a bad situation, saying the CCP could have used the Vatican's inability to reach an agreement as a pretext to eliminate the underground Church. The director suggests that "throwing the underground Church under the bus" might not be the best way to couch the situation.
The director added that Chinese Catholics are concerned about what is playing out. They fear for the future of the Church in China.
Cardinal Zen recently made headlines for decrying Beijing's new security law that threatens Hong Kong's autonomy.
He noted the Vatican's silence, saying, "In Hong Kong, in all this time of turmoil, with so many young people suffering the brutality of the police, not a word from the Vatican," adding the Holy See is "always trying to please the Chinese government."