Papal Silence on China

I like Pope Francis.

I like his pastoral approach—even when, like all of us, he sometimes falls short with an intemperate remark.  I love his vision of the Church as a field hospital, offering the healing love and mercy of Christ to all who open themselves to it. And, while I may at times differ with his prudential judgments about how best to get there, I am grateful for his emphases on uplifting the poor, promoting world peace, and providing stewardship for God’s earth.

And I revere him as the vicar of Christ on earth.

So this is painful for me to write.

But I am deeply troubled by the Holy Father’s continued silence on the brutal, systemic, and ever-widening human oppression that is the very essence of the Chinese Communist regime.

Add to that the regime’s menacing threats to Taiwan, its pursuit of world domination through military escalation, efforts to control technology, manipulation of the global economy, and its coverup and dishonesty after unleashing the devastating, worldwide COVID pandemic—and it becomes readily apparent that the greatest and most immediate existential threat to humanity is this brutal, aggressive, totalitarian gulag of a nation.  

Yet Rome is silent.

As 1.8 million Uyghur Muslims are imprisoned in camps, forced into slave labor, and subjected to beatings, starvation, gang rapes, torture, political indoctrination, and forced sterilizations, Vatican protest is barely audible.

This “genocidal” oppression, as the Washington Post put it, has been condemned as a “crime against humanity” by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and as “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust” in a statement of protest signed by some 76 faith leaders from around the world.

But not by the leader of the world’s more than one billion Catholics.

For years, China has carried on a grisly practice of live, forced organ harvesting and organ trafficking, “parsing out heart, liver, lungs and kidneys for resale like so many used car parts,” according to China expert Steven Mosher, who also first exposed the regime’s forced abortion brutality. Despite Chinese government claims, in 2019 a yearlong investigation by an independent, London-based people’s tribunal found “no evidence” that the inhuman organ harvesting, which particularly targets political prisoners, Falun Gong practitioners, and now Uygur Muslims, has been stopped.

Yet, in 2018, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, asserted that the Chinese government had “accomplished the reform of the organ donation system.” Incredibly, given all of China’s barbaric human rights abuses, Bishop Sorondo proclaimed that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” (My emphasis)

As China has crushed Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and imposed a “national security law” designed to suppress dissent through draconian prison sentences, we have heard no strong condemnation from the Vatican—including, as the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn reported, when Jimmy Lai, “not only Hong Kong’s most well-known champion of democracy,” but “also its most prominent Catholic layman,” was jailed last December.

Lai’s arrest “provoked condemnation” from journalists, political figures, and human rights activists worldwide. But not from Pope Francis.

“At a moment when he and his family most need their shepherd,” McGurn lamented, “Pope Francis is MIA.”

Why? Surely, despite the Vatican’s controversial and largely secret agreement with the Communist government, Church leaders would not remain silent while others are being persecuted, in order to protect Catholics and the Church from persecution.

And even if that were the case, it is not working. Human rights advocate Dr. Ewelina Ochab, writing in Forbes last month, cited this from the 2021 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom:

“Despite the Vatican-China agreement on Bishop appointments, Chinese authorities continued to harass, detain, and torture underground Catholic bishops—such as Cui Tai and Huang Jintong—who refuse to join the state-backed Catholic association.”

“The government also continued to demolish both Catholic and Protestant church buildings and crosses under its ‘sinicization of religion’ campaign.”

“Two years on,” then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented last September, “it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the party’s depredations.”

And it will only get worse, predicts Ochab, for all religious believers in China.

“Considering the current trends of persecution of religious groups in China,” she wrote, “it is expected that China will soon be…competing with North Korea as the worst place to live as a Christian. The same applies to other religious groups. Further restrictions of the right to freedom of religion or belief, in all shapes and forms, are expected.”

“The Chinese people,” Pompeo implored, “need the Vatican’s moral witness and authority in support of China’s religious believers.”  

As McGurn wrote, Francis’ silence would be more understandable if he were in the tradition of some past popes who were reluctant to involve themselves in worldly affairs, even those with compelling moral implications.

But this pope has rarely hesitated to speak out forcefully, on issues ranging from his negative view of capitalism, to the urgency of combating climate change, to welcoming immigrants, or opposing abortion and gender ideology. 

Now the world, and the people of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, need his moral voice crying out against the unspeakable evils of Chinese Communist oppression and aggression.

Instead, from the Vatican—to borrow from 1970s pop singer Don McLean—not a word is spoken; the church bells all are broken.

Or so it would seem.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

12 thoughts on “Papal Silence on China

  1. The Vatican recently declared all is well in Communist China as they re-signed an agreement giving the Maoists control over millions of Chinese Catholics.

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    1. I really don’t believe this pope represents Jesus . He may honor him(rarely) with his lips and worship Him with his mouth , but his heart seems to be more in the world . Maybe he is like Nicodemus and needs to be BORN AGAIN to learn the TRUTH taught in our HOLY SCRIPTURES .

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      1. Well, that’s a tough one. Of course, St. John Paul II was “in the world,” traveling across the globe–yes, first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, but also, in Christ’s name, to promote human freedom, condemn oppression, uplift the poor, and strive for world peace. And the Catholic Church has always called us to do just that–live and proclaim the Gospel, and also apply the Gospel to worldly issues in accord with its transcendent teachings. I believe that Pope Francis too feels called to that mission, even if I disagree with some of his approaches.

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    2. Thanks, Allen. George Weigel has suggested that the Vatican-China agreement, and its renewal, is an attempted return to “The failed Vatican Ostpolitik in Central and Eastern Europe during the 1960s and 1970s.” But at least in Pope Paul’s time, it seemed generated by real uncertainty, not only at the Vatican but across the western world, about how best to deal with a Soviet Union that seemed to be growing only more powerful. In that climate of uncertainty, the Vatican of Paul VI offered Ostpolitik as a strategy devised to protect the practice of the faith as much as possible in the totalitarian Communist world. Obviously, it did not work; then came John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, who demonstrated clearly how to deal with communist oppressors: through unyielding, repeated proclamation of moral truths rooted in the transcendent nature of the human person, and military and economic strength designed to protect human freedom.

      With the results of both approaches now clearly in evidence–the failure of Ostpolitik to secure any semblance of freedom, religious or otherwise, in the Communist world, and the resounding success of the moral, economic, and military leadership of the John Paul II-Ronald Reagan approach that brought the Soviet Union to ruin–there is little justification for current Vatican leadership to try to resurrect the failed policies of Ostpolitik, and even less for silencing the Church’s moral voice in the face of Communist China’s dangerous international aggression and unconscionable domestic tyranny and oppression.

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  2. The logical conclusion of politics which shift further and further left is inevitably Communism, with all the brutality and suppression which we have seen in Russia and now witness to an even further degree in China. Yet far too many Catholic Bishops seem to embrace this political mindset. They have set their support for illegal immigration and have failed to speak out about the essential wrong of parents south of our border handing their toddlers over to strangers for a price to be smuggled into the US . Often, those smugglers subsequently abuse or abandon them. Border laws are made to be broken , evidently. The clergy attack their own parishioners as racists,based on no evidence, blithely assuming such noxious accusations MUST be correct because someone said so. They kneel in solidarity with rioters, an affront to hard working citizens who are innocent victims of criminals allowed to run riot. Catholics are not seeking political guidance from their clergy. They are looking for direction for their souls. Often these issues are NOT the same thing. And church leaders have been deafeningly silent in the face of the outright suppression of our churches in the US over the last year. The covid pandemic lent a fig leaf to their lack of courage in the face of hysteria and government intrusion. Even now, choirs cannot sing and pastors are being arrested in Canada for daring to hold services. All ok in the name of “protecting health” it would seem. The doings of the Communist Chinese have grown worse since the Pope signed his contract with the Chinese. The future doesnt look bright.

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    1. Terrible times in many ways, although I can point to so many good and faithful priests, and courageous bishops. RE: your point that Catholics want spiritual direction, not political guidance, from their clergy, I agree that that should be the case. But sometimes I think our attitudes change depending on the issues. For example, I have heard some Catholics demand that their priests preach against military engagement, or the death penalty–then, when they hear a pro-life homily on abortion complain that they don’t want to hear “politics from the pulpit.” Conversely, some who complain when they feel the bishops are politicizing issues like immigration, then demand that the bishops take the lead in getting pro-life candidates elected, or pro-abortion candidates defeated.

      My own feeling is that our clergy and episcopate should lead in proclaiming the truths of Catholic moral and social teaching–the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, care for the poor, stewardship of the earth–while the laity are called to lead in developing specific laws and policies that, in our prudential judgements, best serve those teachings; then working to enact and implement such laws and policies.

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  3. Thank you Rick for bringing up this subject.
    It reminds me of the criticism of Pope Pius XII during WWII. He originally spoke out condemning Nazis and they responded by killing many Catholics, especially clergy and nuns, including Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and her sister Rose. Now Pius XII is remembered for his “silence” in the face of the Nazis.
    Perhaps Pope Frances remembered that and has decided it more important to save lives than add fuel to the fire.
    Of course, the evil Nazis were eventually destroyed and as Our Lady of Fatima told us, we need to step up our prayer lives and especially pray the Rosary every day. Sadly, few listen to our Mother.

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    1. Thanks, Walter, as always a thoughtful reply. I appreciate your positing a plausible explanation for Pope Francis’ silence on China. As you note, Pope Pius XII has been wrongly vilified for his “silence” about Nazi atrocities, when in fact he did speak out, and was widely praised for it during and after the war, by media (including the N.Y. Times), Jewish leaders and leading Jewish organizations. Yet he did have to try to balance his strong condemnations with consideration of the increased atrocities they certainly did provoke, not only against Catholics but against Jews as well. Certainly, that historical reference point could be an explanation for Francis’ (non)response to Communist Chinese atrocities. It doesn’t, of course, justify the outrageous comment from his head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences citing Communist China as the MODEL for implementing Catholic social doctrine. It is one thing to keep one’s counsel for fear of increasing persecution–quite another to use the Church’s moral authority to bless the most unspeakable evil as something VIRTUOUS.

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  4. I do not like his pastoral approach. His “intemperate rematks” are not only cringeworthy, but as likely as not, they obfuscate and confuse and often necessitate follow-up or correction.

    And as painful and troubling as is his silence on the brutal oppression of Uyghurs and threats to Taiwan, the most over-the-top action of Christ’s vicar is the agreement with this brutal regime to give them a role in the selection of Chinese bishops. Imagine the absurdity of having Trump or bad Catholic Biden selecting American bishops.

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    1. All points well taken, Larry, see some of my responses to comments above, especially the issue of Ostpolitik. As always, thanks for your thoughts.

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