Sino-Vatican Relations Status and Holy See’s Press for Authentic Religious Freedom in the prc


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Sino-Vatican Relations

Status and Holy See’s Press for Authentic Religious Freedom in the PRC
Deborah A. Brown

Seton Hall University
This essay explores the status of Sino-Vatican relations and the capacity of negotiations toward the normalization of them to be a force toward democratic transition in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Holy See, by means of Pope Benedict XVI’s letter of May 2007 to China’s Catholics, is pressing China’s central government for authentic religious freedom—which makes possible freedom of conscience—at a time when speculation runs high about the potential both for a breakthrough in Sino-Vatican relations and for China’s future democratic transition. This analysis provides an important window on how the world’s oldest Western institution, which has had a role in China since the sixteenth century, is attempting to shape the outlook and behavior of China’s some twelve to eighteen million Catholics in ways that challenge state dictates that deny them the right to freely practice their religion in full communion with the Apostolic See and universal Church.


Speculation runs high about the possibility for normalized Sino-Vatican relations in the near future. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) also is the focus of much interest about its potential to transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. A related intriguing question arises: Could negotiations toward normalization of Sino-Vatican relations help to pave the way toward democracy in the PRC by means of the Holy See’s1 demand for the emergence of authentic religious freedom?

By the “Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China,” auspiciously dated May 27, 2007, Pentecost Sunday, Benedict expresses both his love and compassion for China’s Catholics who have born many burdens, and his determination to promote the unification of the divided Church in China as well as its full communion with the established Catholic hierarchy under the leadership of the Successor of Peter. Noting the extensive suffering of Catholics under communist rule and the resulting particular characteristics that mark Catholic practice in China, he stresses the need for all China’s Catholics to be faithful to the ecclesiological principles of the Catholic tradition hence forth.

In response to increasing numbers of queries to the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Secretary of State from China’s bishops and priests concerning how they should conduct themselves in the face of their extensive ecclesial problems, position themselves regarding the government and state agencies and their requirements that control Church life, cope with laws and regulations governing Catholic practice, view illicitly consecrated bishops,2 and more, the Pope has provided long-awaited theological and pastoral guidelines. In doing so, he pursues the call of Pope John Paul II for the unity of the Church in China, with the intention of reducing the tensions between China’s Catholics and Chinese authorities and between China’s unregistered and registered Catholic communities themselves. The letter was preceded by the deliberations of a special commission of China experts and knowledgeable members of the Roman Curia, who presented a working document to a meeting of ecclesiastics held on January 19 and 20, 2007, in the Vatican, to establish an approach toward the future of both the Church in China and of the Holy See’s relationship with China’s central government. During this meeting, Pope Benedict made a commitment to address a letter to China’s Catholics to establish guidelines for the way forward. In the letter—published on June 30, 2007, after a courtesy copy had been provided to Chinese authorities—Benedict sets forth fundamental and unrenounceable principles of Catholic ecclesiology in order to identify what is acceptable and what is unacceptable policy and practice in China. In addition to the letter’s being one of encouragement to forgive past offenses and to achieve reconciliation among opponents, the Pope tackles thorny issues between the Church and the state, among them, the future of the persecuted underground Catholic community, state appointment of bishops without pontifical mandate, the ecclesial requirement that bishops in communion with the pope are the episcopal leaders of dioceses, and the present dearth of canonically normative structures. An overarching theme of the letter is the Pope’s call for the government to respect and grant authentic religious freedom—a petition which he approaches from many fronts.

In sum, the papal letter attempts to change policies and practices that contravene Catholic traditions, and to effect unification of China’s Church in order to eliminate harmful discord among the faithful and to strengthen them to be a major force for evangelization of the Gospel and advancement of justice in the PRC. Although the pontiff is not permitted by the state to have a role in China’s internal affairs, and China’s total Catholic community is small, the potential political potency of the letter looms large.

An overlooked but vastly important factor in the democratic transition of East Asian countries during the third wave of democratization3 was the role of religious organizations in opposing authoritarianism and siding with the prodemocracy opposition. The Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Jaime Cardinal Sin in the Philippines, Protestant churches in South Korea, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, unorthodox Buddhist monk, army general, and present member of parliament, Chamlong Srimuang, and his Buddhist Palang Dharma party in Thailand, and the world’s two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah in Indonesia, all played a major role in the democratic transition of their respective countries.4 Although the influence of the Catholic Church in the collapse of communism in the Eastern bloc and the role of religious organizations in democratic transitions in African and Latin American nations—particularly of the Anglican Church under the leadership of Desmond Tutu in South Africa and of the Catholic Church in its criticism of Pinochet on moral grounds in Chile—gained wide attention, virtually no international scholarly or media scrutiny has been given to how religious organizations have been key players in the democratic transitions of East Asian societies, despite many having exercised decisive roles.5

Looking at the role of religious organizations in the politics of democratic transition outside China, we have contended elsewhere that doctrine does not predetermine involvement, albeit doctrine can influence or constrain it. Rather, religions are multivoiced,6 some believers championing democracy and others leaning away from it. In the Philippines, for example, the Catholic Church hierarchy was the friend of authority and did not promote democratic transition until there was a ground swell for political change in which laity and clergy close to the grass roots and influenced by liberation theology were deeply involved.7 The assassination of Benigno Aquino in August 1983 was the pivotal event that openly drew Cardinal Sin decisively onto the side of prodemocracy forces. In the Philippines in the 1980s, the Catholic Church was multivoiced; still today, as the Philippines struggles for democratic consolidation, important differences of opinion exist within the nation’s Catholic community as to the appropriate role of its episcopal leadership, clergy, and laity in the country’s troubled democratic politics.8 The Philippines hardly has been alone in witnessing voices of dissention within the Catholic Church. During the 1960s through the 1980s, the multiplicity of voices within Catholic communities increased in Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, Chile, and elsewhere, some supporting the traditionalist status quo and resisting political liberalization, others seeking human rights and democracy, and still others identifying with the aspirations of the grass roots, sometimes intent on ending existing dictatorships in preference for Marxist-leaning politics.9 Similarly, there are sharply conflicting views within Catholic circles inside and outside China about the stance that the Catholic Church—also both inside and outside China—should assume in its relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and China’s authoritarian central government.

Two initial considerations about Catholics in China bear notice. The first is that the exclusion and persecution of the unregistered, illegal, conservative, underground Catholic church by successive communist regimes has elevated the prospect that its members would welcome the demise of the current political structure, even though they might not be outright supporters of democratization. The persecuted underground community aside, even within the registered, state-sanctioned, “open” Catholic church in the PRC, there is division between the majority, who are claimed to be loyal to the Holy See,10 and the state-approved authorities over Catholics and their supporters who assert that the Church in China must be unequivocally and comprehensively independent from the Catholic hierarchy in the Vatican. Among the members of the underground church and the majority within the “open” church who embrace the Holy See, it is unknown what the motivation or capacity might be for them to “go political” if they believe—after reading Benedict’s May letter—that there is a genuine prospect of their own normalized relationship with the universal Church. Even absent any overt political action on the part of these Chinese Catholic factions, their sentiments could influence significant numbers of family members and persons in their social and work-group circles.11 Assuming it is true that not only members of the underground church but also the majority of lay members and clergy of the official church are loyal to the Holy See, one can surmise that they would prefer political conditions that safeguard their religious inclinations.

A second consideration is that a crucial variable in democratic transition elsewhere in East Asia has been an important coalescence between religious organizations and the political opposition, the united effort usually having been initiated by the latter.12 There does not appear to be an organized, viable, political opposition in China presently, however, despite protests and riots that flare across China’s countryside (where 60 percent of the population lives) as a result of land grabs by authorities, widespread corruption among officials, and poor incomes. The limited political opposition that appeared in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989 all but disappeared through fear, persecution, dissipation abroad, and government-encouraged redirection of interests toward economic development following the People’s Liberation Army’s brutal crackdown. Further, the student leaders of the 1989 movement were roundly criticized for having no sense of building a mass movement or seeking to mobilize ordinary citizens,13 raising the question whether a reemerged democracy movement in China would be inclined to seek the active collaboration of any or various religious organizations, which themselves often are plagued by internal conflicts. The lack of an organized political opposition is, of course, central to the legitimacy formula of the CCP and China’s successive communist governments, which have controlled and co-opted China’s five state-sanctioned religions and suppressed religious groups that will not submit to the state’s control. Leaders in these sanctioned organizations who have acquiesced to government co-option are legitimizers of the regime and “political partners” with it, thus, unlikely proponents of genuine religious freedom or democratic transition, since their positions and privileges of authority are owed to existing echelons of power. Indeed, the authorities over Catholic affairs likely fear that normalization of Sino-Vatican relations would strip them of their influence; consequently, they insist on preservation of the status quo in which the state imposes its control over religious organizations and communities.14

Unable to co-opt all religionists, however, the government has vigorously, and often violently, suppressed those it views as enemies of the state, especially Catholics in the underground church because they refuse to register and accept the state-impose conditions of being a Catholic in China. As seen elsewhere in East Asia, under the oppression of an authoritarian regime, some religious organizations that did not owe their financial and other aspects of existence to the government not only harbored dissenters but also became incubators of the demand for political reform.

Still, if an organized political opposition were to arise and court disaffected Catholics in China to join a democratic movement, these Catholics would have to determine whether they would respond positively to the call. They might do so if they determined that it was in the self-interest of their long-suffering Catholic communities. Conversely, they might ignore the call, or at least be more circumspect, if the Pope were to ask them to accommodate local authorities and those in Beijing, with the aim to secure space for building a unified Catholic Church in the PRC. In his letter to Catholics in China, Benedict seeks to resolve the dangerous undermining of Church doctrine and established hierarchical order by Chinese officials, and he indicates that the Holy See will not yield on maintenance of its centralized authority or concede on issues of its concern; but he calls for “respectful and constructive dialogue” and notes the importance of improved Sino-Vatican relations to the future of the Catholic Church in China, a nation of burgeoning religious practice.

Whether Catholics in the underground and in the faction that is loyal to Rome within the state-sanctioned church would harbor dissidents and promote democratization would depend not only on local leadership but also on leadership in the Vatican—and these two centers of leadership might not always agree—as was the case in Poland in the 1980s. Organizational interests of Chinese Catholics—especially those who have been severely suppressed or those who have not been as oppressed but who seek an uninhibited relationship with the Holy See—might vary widely from those of the hierarchy in the Vatican, whose members have not been persecuted by the regime and who hope for a cooperative relationship with the state to gain latitude to spread Catholicism.

Mindful that, among nations, China has the largest population, Benedict recalls in his May letter John Paul II’s emphasis on new evangelization and his expectation that, “just as during the first Christian millennium the Cross was planted in Europe and during the second in the American continent and in Africa, so during the third millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in the vast and vibrant Asian continent.15 The Economist has pointed to the “resurgence of religion or quasi-religious activity across China that—not withstanding occasional crackdowns—is transforming the social and political landscape of many parts of the countryside”; even in the heretofore secular cities there is a revival of religious practice which, for many, is a means to exert individualism in a society that demands conformity to state policies. With the CCP’s heavy emphasis on economic growth and modernization, aimed principally at retention of the party’s control of power, religious matters, like much else in China, have taken on dynamics of their own.16 A recent poll by professors Tong Shijun and Liu Zhongyu at East China Normal University in Shanghai revealed that about a third of the 4,500 participants in the survey, conducted from 2005 until recently among persons sixteen and above, described themselves as religious. This suggests that as many as 400 million people in China could be religionists, four times the official government figure of 100 million, which China Daily, the government-run newspaper in which the results of the survey were reported, admitted was a figure that remained largely unchanged for years.17 Problematic for the Hu Jintao regime is that both state-sanctioned and illegal religions are enjoying a significant revival in China, owed to people’s desire to fill the spiritual vacuum that developed with the waning hold of communist ideology on the masses during the violent Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and with the rise of China’s economic prosperity since the 1980s, which has led to a search for something beyond material gain.18

The growth of religious practice, especially Christianity but many other religions as well, is thought to also reflect a spiritual yearning among Chinese, including youth, as turbulent social change, involving shifts away from traditional values, raises interest in religion.19 Edmond Tang of the University of Birmingham says that Christian fellowships, a new type of “house church” run by professors and students, are active in most Chinese universities, and that “more than 30 academic faculties and research centres are devoted to the study of a once maligned religion... .”20 Of concern to the government is that the fastest growing churches are those of the underground, usually evangelical, absent denomination and independent of the government.21 The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, publisher of the World Christian Database, maintains that there are 111 million Christians in China presently, of whom 90 percent are Protestant, predominantly Pentecostal.22 (The United States Department of State estimates as many as 100 million Christians in China; China’s official tally is below 50 million,23 similar to the CIA World Factbook which estimates between 39 million to 52 million Christians, or 3 percent to 4 percent of China’s population.) If the center’s assessment is valid, China currently has the third largest Christian population in the world, smaller than only the Christian communities of the United States and Brazil. The center projects that China will have 218 million Christians by 2050 (16 percent of the population) to become the world’s second largest Christian community.24 David Aikman, who updated his Jesus in Beijing in 2006, estimated China’s Protestants to be 70 million. Richard Madsen, author of China’s Catholics, provides a substantially lower figure of 40 million Protestants.25 That even the most modest figures indicate Protestants have realized some 4,300 percent growth under communist rule26 undoubtedly is unsettling to Catholic officials in Rome. The battle that the Catholic Church is waging to preserve its dominant position in Latin America in the face of growing Pentecostalism, is not unlike the competition that it faces in China, where Pentecostalism and Protestant evangelism have grown explosively in thousands of underground “house churches.”

John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter observes, “Curiously, this booming ‘soul market’ seems largely to have bypassed the Catholic church [in China]. In 1949, there were 3.3 million Catholics. The most common estimate today is 12 million. Over time, China’s population has increased by a factor of four, which means that Catholicism has done little more than keep pace.”27 Thus, at this time of revitalized, competitive, religious practice in the PRC when Catholics lag behind Protestants in rate of growth, the Holy See presumably considers closing the gap a pressing matter and the need for normalized relations with China’s government an essential prerequisite to an assertive program of evangelism. Hence, the welling tide of religious practice may be viewed as a vital opportunity to promote a breakthrough in Sino-Vatican relations, perhaps with the belief that a critical crossroad in China’s economic growth, social development, and internationalization has been passed by the government that prevents it from effectively inhibiting the reintroduction of the influence of the universal Catholic Church in China without its international prestige suffering a serious setback.

Regardless of the Holy See’s inclination toward fostering religious freedom in China, it must be observed that the potential role of any religious organization—especially one in disfavor with the government—to help move China toward democracy is harshly constrained. The near complete destruction of Falun Gong by mainland authorities is a vivid demonstration of the party’s inability to tolerate a mass movement,28 particularly if it is perceived as a threatening political opposition. The Falun Gong, an eclectic movement that claims not to be religious because it is outside government-sanctioned religious practice—but nevertheless blends Buddhist ideas with quasi-Taoist practices—has been ruthlessly persecuted in China since 1999. This is because the government viewed the sudden emergence of ten to fifteen thousand of its members around the government compound, Zhongnanhai, in April 1999, as a threat to the CCP’s control of power. Forced to exist in legal limbo, and thus subject to harassment and arbitrary arrest by officials (a parallel situation to that of underground Catholics), Falun Gong members amassed to peacefully demand legal status that would afford them protection. Their petition for legal protection and greater tolerance by officials, however, cast them in the eyes of authorities in the mold of China’s democracy movement, which last had erupted a decade earlier at Tiananmen Square, and in the long shadow of dangerous religious societies of past centuries, such as the Taoist Yellow Turbans, Buddhist White Lotus organizations, northwest and southwest restive Muslims, Christian-inspired Taipings, and millenarian Boxers, all of whom wrecked havoc in China and threatened to topple then existing regimes.29 The strategy of officials in Beijing has been to crush the capacity of Falun Gong to influence society, which it had begun to do even within government circles and the People’s Liberation Army itself, raising grave concern among authorities. The government sent a warning to all religious groups when it countered the movement with immediate arrests, banning Falun Gong by July 1999, and by October, passing special legislation in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress against the group, which by then had been officially declared an “evil cult.” In the light of the zero-tolerance circumstances in China regarding dissent, the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics makes it evident that, if there is to be hope for headway in Sino-Vatican relations, the authorities in the Vatican and China’s Catholics must be flexible on matters not deemed to be “unrenounceable principles” by the Holy See. Therefore, some readers of Benedict’s letter undoubtedly will argue that it unwisely provides to rulers in Beijing the opportunity to co-opt more Catholics and the excuse to further suppress those who resist unification with the official, state-dominated, “open” church.

As China and the Holy See contemplate normalization of their relations, central to the outcome is whether the Holy See envisions a role for itself in moving China away from atheistic authoritarianism in the religious sphere and toward genuine freedom of religion, and ultimately toward democracy. Certain historical facts about the Catholic Church are unavoidable in this regard. One is that, in its claim to universality, for most of its history, the Catholic Church has denied the legitimacy of plurality of religious beliefs.30 Another is, as Huntington noted, prior to the 1970s, “Catholicism was associated with the absence of democracy or with limited or late democratic development.”31 Lipset wrote that Catholicism “appeared antithetical to democracy in pre World War II Europe and in Latin America.”32 Rooted in the seventeenth century Puritan revolution, democracy in the first wave in the nineteenth century was planted in Western Protestant countries, not Catholic ones.33 The Protestant inclination toward democracy and Catholic antipathy for it was explained as the outgrowth of principally doctrinal and organizational differences. Protestants stressed that human allegiance belonged to God, that one’s relationship with God was the individual’s responsibility, and that believers could glean on their own the living word of God in the Bible and come to understand independently God’s relation to their lives. Protestants insisted on the fallibility of doctrines and institutions, and avoided elevating scriptures or the church above criticism, believing that the people and their church must be open to self-criticism and to “reformation.” Thus, Protestants warned against “absolutizing” dogma, the church, or individual church leaders. Further, they encouraged the laity to have a significant role in church affairs. Consequently, Protestant church structure and outlook was more democratic than that of the Catholic Church. Also, as Weber maintained, Protestantism encouraged economic development and the rise of the middle class, paving the way toward democratic development.34 The preference of the Catholic Church for nondemocratic practices was understood as its adversity toward a significant role for the laity in collective corporate leadership in preference for a strong, authoritarian, ecclesial hierarchy that dictated—first from the Vatican, and in hierarchical turn, from the episcopal authority in the particular Catholic churches internationally—religious doctrine and practices for all Catholics. In sum, the Catholic Church was not adverse to authoritarian governance, as it was an authoritarian institution itself. As such, it was a willing companion to the landed aristocracy and the nondemocratic status quo, giving legitimacy to authoritarian regimes in many countries.35

However, there was an about-face for the Catholic Church regarding democracy following the mid-1960s. As Huntington observed, in the third wave of democratization, “roughly three-quarters of the countries that transited to democracy between 1974 and 1989 were Catholic countries.”36 Those that democratized in South America, Central America, the first to do so in East Asia (the Philippines), Spain and Portugal in Europe, and the first two countries to democratize in East Europe (Poland and Hungary) were Catholic countries. Further, the most Catholic of these regions, South America, was the region that democratized most fully during this period.37 Huntington has offered three apparent causes for the democratic transitions of Catholic countries: (1) by the 1970s, most Protestant countries already had become democracies, leaving only non-Protestant countries yet to democratize; (2) Catholic countries had begun to experience better economic conditions than previously; and (3), in the 1960s,
The changes within the Church [fostered principally by the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, convened by Pope John XXIII, and the first such major reformation of the universal Catholic Church since the Council of Trent of 1545- 1563] brought a powerful social institution into opposition to dictatorial regimes, deprived those regimes of whatever legitimacy they might claim from religion, and provided protection, support, resources, and leadership to prodemocratic opposition movements.38
Huntington illuminated the effect of the Second Vatican Council on the Church’s important role in the third wave of democratization:

Vatican II stressed the legitimacy and need for social change, the importance of collegial action by bishops, priests, and laity, dedication to helping the poor, the contingent character of social and political structures, and the rights of individuals. Church leaders, Vatican II asserted, have responsibility to “pass moral judgments, even on matters of the political order whenever basic personal rights...make such judgment necessary.” 39

Thus, it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential power of the Catholic Church to be a catalyst for democratization in China, despite China’s small number of Catholics. In 1988, Richard Nixon observed that, in deriding the ability of the Church to affect world events, Stalin dryly had asked how many divisions the Pope commanded. Nixon’s assessment was that Stalin did not understand that powerful ideas rather than arms determine history, and pointed to John Paul II, in his view the most influential religious leader of the twentieth century, as a potent example. He summarized:
People listen to the Pope because they want to hear what he has to say—not just about religion but about the mysteries of life and the intricacies of statecraft. He lifts people out of the drudgery, drabness, and boredom that plague life for both rich and poor. He gives them a vision of what man can be if he will listen to what Lincoln called the better angels of his nature. Against such a faith as this, communism, the antifaith, cannot prevail.40

In assessing how to move forward with their relations with the Holy See, Chinese authorities cannot be certain what dynamic would be unleashed in serious negotiations toward normalization of relations—or if normalized relations were to occur. Although some religious organizations elsewhere in East Asia were critical to the process of democratic transition, others were dormant, while still others formed alliances with conservative politicians and business interests to hinder democratic development.41 The Catholic hierarchy in the Vatican has admonished Catholic clergy and episcopal leadership not to become entangled in politics; however, John Paul II in regard to Chile observed about his own actions that his charge was to spread the Gospel, and if democratic tenets were integral to the Gospel, so be it.42

In his letter to China’s Catholics, Benedict attempts to promote political confidence among Chinese authorities:

Let China rest assured that the Catholic Church sincerely proposes to offer, once again, humble and disinterested service in the areas of her competence... .
As far as relations between the political community and the Church in China are concerned, it is worth calling to mind the enlightening teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which states: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor is she tied to any political system. ...
...the Catholic Church which is in China does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the State; rather, her mission is to proclaim Christ to men and women, as the Saviour of the world, basing herself—in carrying out her proper apostolate—on the power of God.43
Yet, reiterating his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict continues,

“The Church cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.”44

Thus, there are qualifications to the Holy See’s willingness to accommodate China’s existing political order. Will the Catholic Church, or will it not, step into the politics of democratization in China? Will the Holy See seize the moment when religionists are a growing force in China to encourage action for religious freedom, social justice, reform, and other dimensions of democracy, the political system most preferred—at least in practice—by mass citizenry in all regions of the globe,45 or will it submit, by means of rationalized concessions, to the status quo of state-dominated religion in China with an eye to limited acceptance by CCP authorities that would accompany normalized relations primarily on China’s terms? Particularly since the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and the collapse of communism in the former Eastern bloc and Soviet Union, there has been discrediting and disintegration of communism in China, which could be regarded as a preparatory step toward political liberalization. Still, democracy remains remote, as Chinese citizens are not permitted to participate regularly, on the basis of equality in voting, in the election of political leaders, openly and fairly compete for office, freely learn about and debate alternative policies, and more. Indeed, authoritarian structures and procedures often are not responsive to the well-being, much less the preferences, of the mass citizenry.46 Do these conditions constitute the lack of justice, closeness of mind and will, and disregard for the common good about which the Pope says the Catholic Church has deep concern?

The following section of this essay provides a condensed history of Sino-Vatican relations and restricted religious freedom in China as historical groundwork to better understand the difficulties of normalizing Sino-Vatican relations. It briefly summarizes the tensions between Chinese regimes and the Holy See, as well as the approaches of the first, second, third, and fourth generations of communist leadership to restricting religious freedom in the mainland. The essay turns next to present Catholic statistics in China, before moving to a description of the divide over concepts of religious freedom between the government-sanctioned “open” Catholic church that is controlled by agencies of the state and the illegal underground Catholic church that has remained steadfastly loyal to the pope despite severe persecution. The following two sections review the hope for reconciliation and address the benefits of improved Sino-Vatican relations for both sides. Focus turns next to Benedict’s important May 2007 letter to China’s Catholics, which reveals the myriad problems to be overcome and how the Holy See is applying pressure on China’s government for authentic religious freedom, in no small part so that a unified Catholic Church might prosper in China. The section before the conclusion considers the important role of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong as a force for democratization, and incorporates views of Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, who is in the forefront of the local democracy movement and called by many people the “conscience” of this Special Administrative Region of China.

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