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.