Vatican deal unlikely to spur religious freedom in China: expert

Hong Kong Professor Ying Fuk-tsang questions the assertion of the Church that the deal will lead to religious tolerance in China

(CNA photo)

SHANGHAI (CNA) -- A provisional agreement between Beijing and the Vatican on bishop appointments in China will not help open up religious freedom in China, a professor at a Hong Kong university said Sunday.

"I don't think that the agreement will make religious beliefs freer in China," Professor Ying Fuk-tsang (邢福增), director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNA, referring to the deal announced Saturday.

"Although the agreement acknowledges for the first time the leadership role of the pope in China's Catholic Church," Ying said, "the biggest question now is that it cannot prevent China from controlling or interfering in the Chinese Catholic Church."

"It was just a small step forward," he contended.

If the accord allows the pope to veto future bishop nominations by the Beijing-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association but the nominations are controlled by Chinese authorities, then the Holy See is recognizing to some extent the Patriotic Association, which it has not accepted in the past, he said.

The deal also did not address the fate of underground bishops faithful to the Vatican who have long been suppressed and in some cases are still being imprisoned, Ying said.

How Beijing will treat the underground Catholic Church in China will be worth watching, Ying said, including whether Beijing will ask Catholics faithful to the Vatican to join the patriotic association.

According to a picture of a document with an official stamp that went viral on the Internet, public security authorities in Gaocheng in Hebei province have issued a notice requiring the local underground Catholic community to be part of the patriotic association and obey its instructions.

According to the document, future religious rituals will only be presided over by "legitimate" priests appointed by official authorities.

In the face of mounting uncertainties about their future, a member of Shanghai's underground Catholic Church told CNA: "We will do whatever the pope says. This is what the church has taught us."