Religious Suppression: The China-Vatican Deal

The Implication of the Sino-Vatican Deal

Since 1951, the Vatican and China have not held diplomatic relations with one another. This was following an incident where the Chinese Government threatened to separate from the Holy See, also known as the Pope, creating a group of ‘Independent Catholics.’ This was met with strong opposition from priests in China, with some seeking to find a middle ground.

Since then relations have remained cordial while negotiations continue as to the support for Catholics in China. In recent years the dialogue has progressed significantly, with terms being developed as to recognizing religious figures together in exchange for then underground churches being made to conform with Chinese Government rules.

On September 22 a landmark deal was agreed upon, forging a new path for Sino-Vatican relations.

Religion in China

Christianity in China has, since the Communist Regime came to power, been suppressed. Indeed this is true of all religions in China, as they are seen to contend with Governmental authority in the country. China is a decidedly secular state. However, the growth of Christianity has been constant in the last 50 years since the Communist Party imposed regulations on the religion.

It must be said that China has not looked to completely destroy religion, but rather has sought to utilize and control it so that it accompanies and is subservient to the regime rather than remain a challenger.

Protestant Christians in China were not as affected. The Chinese Government involved itself in the process by way of creating the Three-Self Patriotic Movement developed from the National Christian Council of China. This movement looks to present Christianity as supporting the Regime, removing foreign religious influence in the country and developing a set of religious values akin to those of the Communist Government.

Catholic Christians on the other hand hold allegiance to the Holy See. The allegiance pledged by Bishops to the pope is in direct confrontation with the Chinese Government’s approach, because it pledges support to a foreign power. This led to many Chinese Catholics going ‘underground’ for their religion, praying in secret services and having to hide their faith.

The deal that has been agreed on and signed consists of a two-part system; firstly the Bishops will be selected by the Chinese Government, or more specifically the Three-Self Patriotic Movement under the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) and secondly these Bishops will be put forward to the Vatican for subsequent approval.

What the Deal Means for Chinese Christianity

Every few years in China instances of religious oppression show up, with a crackdown in both 1992 and 2011 on underground religious meetings and services. In 2015 there was a significant removal of crosses from religious buildings and a large number of Church officials were declared corrupt. Finally, 2018 itself has seen the destruction of paintings and sculptures of Christ.

Among the growing Christian population in China, estimated to be around 100 million, both concern and contempt are increasing for actions taken against their beliefs. This deal might serve to belay those fears slightly, with reassurances made of them still being able to practice their faith without persecution. The extent to which this is true remains to be seen.

The Chinese Government, in this case, is having to recognize the increasing problems of continually attempting to suppress religion across such a vast population. They already suffer increasingly at the suppression of both Buddhist Tibetans and Muslim Uyghurs. Having to deal with more native Han being suppressed could further serve as a challenge to the government.

The deal demonstrates that the Government has come to terms with the challenge, and redirection, acknowledging that suppression will not be the cure. By letting the Vatican hold the final decision, it stands at enough of a concession to ensure practicing Christians do not have to choose between state or faith. Although is it a purely Catholic issue that has been agreed upon, it still stands to help reassure the more general Christian community in China, that the state can find a compromise.


Since the cessation of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, the Holy See has continued to recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a nation. The Vatican is one of only 17 countries to recognize Taiwan, continuing to act as a disruption to China, both challenging the Government internally as well as on the international stage.

Although the deal that both sides reached did not include anything regarding Taiwan-Vatican relations, it is implied that it could be still part of further negotiations in the future.

Taiwan's former ambassador to the Holy See believes diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Holy See can develop only if Beijing ensures religious freedom to the millions of Catholics in mainland China.
—  UCANews

What this does demonstrate, however, is that the Vatican doesn’t recognize Taiwan apart from a spiritual relationship. Developing ties with China further weakens the standing of this relationship both on the national scene, lessening support within China for the alternative government, and on the international scene where it is almost losing another supporting nation. The Vatican is willing to put China in front of Taiwan with no regard as to the geopolitical implications behind this. Such actions by the Vatican are understandable, as it is not a nation with a foreign policy focused on anything but religion, but will still hurt Taiwan nonetheless.

It remains to be seen as to when China will exert further pressure both on the matter of Taiwan as well as on the practicing Christians of China.

Ray Jones / Journalist
I am a Proud Patriot. I have a degree in history and international law with an interest in anthropology. I aim to make Americans realize their greatness!
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