In Xinjiang, NW China, reports suggest that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposes forced labour, punishes any practice of Islam, loads blindfolded Uighur men onto trains for transportation, and sterilizes women; a million people are estimated to be imprisoned in ‘re-education/assimilation centres serving as internment camps where they are subject to interrogation and torture. Is the CCP involved in the ‘cultural genocide’ - or just plain genocide - of the Uighurs? Or should its other crimes provide the substance of indictments in international law?
In an ideal world the perpetrators of China’s alleged crimes against the Uighurs would be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. It won’t be the Muslim States which press for this to happen. And neither do passionate public letters, finely judged protests from democracies, Trump’s sanctions on complicit Chinese companies, appear to have achieved anything.
The rule of law remains central to the European vision. Does international law offer the Uighurs any hope of remedy? There are several legal possibilities. The charge of genocide is one of them. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, introduced the term ‘genocide’ into legal debate in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. His original definition of genocide was: “a coordinated plan of different actions aimed at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves”. Lemkin saw cultural genocide as a key element of physical genocide because it defined the identity of the group to be exterminated. Poland’s post-war trials referred to ‘cultural extermination’ and ‘religious and cultural repression’. Lemkin’s long campaign to get genocide recognised as a crime, his sheer perseverance, resulted in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the international treaty of December 1948.
The 1994 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007 also looks applicable to the Uighurs. Article 8 refers to the “right not to be subject to forced assimilation” and, without using the words, spells out almost everything which would be understood as ‘cultural genocide’. Under the pretext of countering terrorism Uighurs in Xinjiang are experiencing violations of every aspect of Article 8 though of the Indigenous Rights Declaration (though the CCP might claim that the Uighurs originated in North-Central Mongolia, aren’t indigenous to China having arrived within the territory of the Han dynasty in the ninth century). With both ancient history and the definition of ‘indigenous’ contested, this particular UN Declaration would not provide the Uighurs assured legal shelter.
The UN 1948 Genocide Convention does leave the CCP vulnerable to claims that by using sterilisation and abortion they are imposing ‘measures intended to prevent births within the group’, an act ‘intended to destroy in whole or in part… a religious group’. Intention is notoriously difficult to prove. And the CCP already has a record of coerced sterilisation nationally as part of its ‘one-child’ policy. It might argue the need for national population control measures aimed at an ethnic group with a high fertility rate. Though it does appear that the intention of the CCP’s policy towards the Uighurs is to destroy their religious and thus ethnic identity.
Charges of ‘crimes against humanity’, violations of individual rights, have in the past been used instead of attempting to prove that mass killings were intended to destroy one particular group, and were therefore genocidal. But there was also a more general anxiety that focus on crimes against groups could undermine the foundation of individual human rights. This was one reason why, at the Nuremberg trials, November 1945-1946, Nazi leaders were charged with ‘war crimes’ - which included, amongst others, the charge of elimination of groups. The explicit use of the term ‘genocide’ occurred in the Nuremberg indictments under this heading of ‘war crimes’, but was generally soft-pedalled.
Speculating about the charge against China most likely to succeed if it reached court is one thing; bringing a charge another. Implementing the 1948 Genocide Convention requires international intervention overriding the UN’s foundational principle of national sovereignty, and has encountered many obstacles. After US troops had been killed seven months previously during military intervention in Somalia, President Clinton notoriously prevented US diplomats using the word ‘genocide’ during and immediately after the May 1994 Rwandan genocide because it implied obligation to intervene. The UN Security Council set up a special international criminal court in Arusha, Tanzania in November 1994 to try key Rwandan genocidaires. It took a long time but there were successful genocide convictions.
The establishment by an international treaty called the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 was a turning point. The Americans did their level best to block it. I was at a Foreign Office reception when a panicky official rushed up to the senior diplomat I was talking to and, ignoring my presence, indiscreetly told him that Bill Clinton had been ringing, trying to get hold of Tony Blair. It was Clinton’s last-ditch attempt to get the UK to withdraw support from the ICC. The blanched senior diplomat made his excuses and rushed off. Clinton failed to budge Blair.
Establishing the ICC finally realised Lemkin’s war-time goal. Genocide became explicitly included as a fourth category of indictable crime in international human rights law. Since then the crime of genocide has established itself as part of the legal architecture international law. Radko Mladić followed Radovan Karažić, convicted in 2016, into the dock in 2017, with both found guilty by the ICC of the charge of genocide for the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks, boys and men, and the forcible removal of women, young children and some elderly. In 2018 the Khmer Rouge head of state, Khieu Samphan and his deputy, Nuon Chea, were convicted of genocide. They were tried in a court with international and Cambodian judges, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, set up in 2006.
International relations have become coloured by the language of international human rights law even applied to the distant past. The German Development Minister, Gerd Mueller, visiting Namibia in August 2019 admitted “that the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1907 were what today we describe as genocide”: 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama, some 75% of these peoples, were machine-gunned, their wells poisoned, civilians driven into the desert to die, by German colonial military forces. Against this background, King Philippe of Belgium has now spoken of the ‘violence and acts of cruelty’ in the Congo under Leopold II and there is now pressure from Black Lives Matter for reparations.
China today is destroying the culture, religion and identity of over one million Uighurs. Although 123 UN member states have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute, China and USA, unwilling to cede any national sovereignty, have not. The Russians signed but never ratified and withdrew their signature when the court described the Russian presence in Crimea as an ‘occupation’. Who will dare to bring a charge of cultural genocide? China sits on the Security Council and can, and does, veto referrals of cases to the ICC. Germany and Belgium may be prepared to admit to old crimes, maybe even Britain, but China is not about to put itself in the dock.
See also TheArticle "The Uighurs: who will dare bring charges of cultural genocide?" 17/08/2020
“It feels as though the poor has no one to defend them. They don’t seem to feature in the national agenda. Their cries for an improved health system go unheeded..…It is not clear to your bishops that the national leadership we have has the knowledge, social skills, emotional stability and social orientation to handle the issues that we face as a nation. All we hear from them is blame for our woes on foreigners, colonialism, white settlers and so called internal detractors”.
This is taken from a powerful pastoral letter from Zimbabwe’s bishops that has hit the Catholic headlines this week. Though talk of ‘the Church’s prophetic voice’ is commonplace, we are unaccustomed to such forthright documents from Church leaders. It is easy to talk vaguely about peace, justice and reconciliation. Nobody takes much notice. Nothing much happens. But for African bishops living under corrupt regimes, their countries plundered, their freedoms lost, the choice is stark: to speak out or, by their silence, become complicit.
The Zimbabwean Bishops’ Conference have made their choice and, on 14 August published, “The March is not Ended”, a pastoral letter about the current situation in Zimbabwe. Drawing on Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah and Micah, and on Catholic Social Teaching The March is not Ended points to the gulf between a small elite which has benefitted from Independence, who think they have ‘arrived’, ‘ended their march for freedom’, and the suffering majority of Zimbabweans faced with a multi-layered crisis. This metaphor of ‘the march’ and biblical references, if properly understood, might not have created a Church-State crisis. But the forthright, detailed, factual description of human rights violations, apparent implicit support for public protest, and their description of the political, economic and social situation in Zimbabwe, did create just such a crisis.
The next day, 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Monica Mutsvangwa, responded by accusing the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Robert Nhlovu, of leading the country towards a Rwandan-type conflict, describing him as an ‘evil bishop’, and deliberately trying to isolate him by ignoring the fact that all the members of the Bishops Conference had signed the pastoral. Archbishop Nhlovu, who before being appointed to Harare was formerly Bishop of Hwange, comes from an Ndebele-speaking region where from 1983-1987 massacres had occurred, led by Robert Mugabe’s North Korean trained 5th. Brigade troops who killed some 20,000 Ndebele-speakers. The brief mention in the pastoral of these former human rights violations added to the government’s fury. The man who is widely thought to have masterminded the Ndebele pogroms, Minister of State Security at the time, was Emmerson Mnangagwa now President of Zimbabwe. He was the favoured candidate of the UK for the Presidency after the coup in 2017 which toppled Robert Mugabe.
Catholics and other Christians have found the courage to defy the government and support their leaders. The Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe in an open letter emphasise that the bishops acted “collectively not individually and that the reference to Archbishop Nhlovu’s ethnicity – it was not the first tribalist attack on him from ZANU-PF – was “needlessly brought to the fore and is singled out for a venomous attack as if the pastoral letter was his own initiative or creation”. The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations Sabbath Call message in October 2019 had appealed for unity in the face of Zimbabwe’s spiraling crises. In 7 August this year The Platform of Concerned Citizens (PCC) deplored the insulting responses to the African Union’s concern about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and to a similar expression of concern by the ANC from South Africa. The Zimbabwe Council of Churches are now urging the government to retract its insulting response to Archbishop Nhlovu. The Catholic Bishops are not a lone voice but their message to Zimbabwean Catholics, read at Sunday mass, is by far the strongest and clearest.
How can anyone help? It is clear that Britain’s track record in the country means any protests will be dismissed by the Zimbabwe government. But the Church in Zimbabwe urgently needs tangible international signs of solidarity. This means more than statements of support from Churches around the world however much they are appreciated. The Archbishop clearly needs attention to his security. The Bishops’ Conference premises will need competent guards. This should not be seen as an in inappropriate form of funding from, say, Aid to the Church in Need, or Catholic development agencies. I was in Rhodesia when the Bethlehem Fathers Moto Press was burned by Ian Smith’s thugs and in South Africa when the Bishops Secretariat was burned out by apartheid agents. It happens.
South Africa is geographically in a position to intervene – it has a refugee problem from destitute Zimbabwean migrants - but there is little support for strong action elsewhere in the region. Zimbabwean opposition parties, however disorganized, need support from their sister Parties in the international community and particularly from the Commonwealth, or the last possibilities of democratic change will disappear. And instead of anger, abuse and calumny the Zimbabwean government needs to listen to those who love their country and cannot bear any longer to see it destroyed and its people impoverished.
See also The Tablet On-Line 17/08/2020
A whole generation of Catholics formed in the Young Christian Students and Young Christian Workers movement is receding into history. Guiding their practice was a very simple formula: See, Judge, and Act. It was proposed by a Belgian priest, Joseph Cardijn.
Catholicism is on the communitarian – not collective – end of a spectrum with individualism at the opposite end. Cardijn’s formula took seriously the different milieu, social contexts, that people live in and which affects them. People in factories, university libraries, or on sugar plantations have very different experiences of life. The Cardijn approach profoundly influenced the way Catholics - from bishops to landless agricultural labourers - set about analysing and trying to change society for the better.
The See, Judge, and Act, method became a valuable way of life for the lay apostolate, and a simple formula for analysis reflected in many official Church documents following the Second Vatican Council. ‘See’ meant asking the questions: what is happening, why is it happening, who is affected? ‘Judge’ posed questions such as what do you think about all this, what are your values, beliefs and faith saying about it? What should be happening? And ‘Act’: what would you like to change, what action will you take now, and whom can you involve? So Young Christian Student activists had an off-the-shelf method to communicate with Young Christian Workers in social movements.
Cardijn spent his life teaching Catholics how to engage with the problems of the day, how to bring about change, how to implement Catholic social doctrine. This, very briefly, is his story.
Joseph Leo Cardijn was born in November 1882 into a working class family in Schaerbeek, today a suburb of Brussels, and into the midst of a deep recession. His parents were concierges for an apartment block. The new baby was sickly and sent to live with his grandparents in Halle, a Flemish town south of the capital in the process of industrialisation with artificial-silk works, paper mills, glass works and a mining community. His parents later joined him there and his father, despite being illiterate, started in business as a coal merchant; Joseph remembered reading aloud to him from Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on capital and labour.
Joseph Cardijn earned his first pocket-money delivering sacks of coal in a hand-cart. He remembered feeling sorry for the young teenage workers he saw setting off to long hours in the mills and mines, and for his schoolmates, for whom debilitating labour awaited. Despite his parents’ expectations that he would shortly join his school friends in a Halle factory, he asked if he could stay on at school and then train for the priesthood. In the late eighteen nineties Father Adolphe Daens, who formed the radical Christlijke Volkspartei (Christian Peoples Party) - and was defrocked - had been an important influence on Cardijn.
As a seminary student in Malines, Cardijn was profoundly shocked by the hostility of his old friends, now factory workers or miners. They felt he had abandoned them for the clerical life and joined the owners who exploited them. Cardijn felt that his friends had turned away from the Church losing their childhood innocence and choosing vice. The death of his father in 1903, exhausted by a life of toil, deepened his sadness. Perhaps there was a touch of guilt. His choice of the priesthood meant that his father had lost his son’s help in the business so had not been spared the drudgery of manual work in old age. At his father’s deathbed he vowed to consecrate his priestly life to the evangelisation of the workers.
Rapid developments in Belgian national politics were occurring and the Malines Major Seminary was feeling the ferment beyond its walls. Christian Democrats were emerging and challenging the existing conservative Catholic Party. Seminary students attended a series of international conferences, 1886, 1887, 1890, on the plight of workers in Europe’s economic crisis created by the recession. They heard inspiring talks by the Dominican, Georges-Celas Rutten O.P., later to become general-secretary of the Confederation of Christian Trades Unions which was supported by Archbishop of Mechelen (Malines) Désiré-Joseph Mercier. Workers’ rights, they learnt, were of concern to Christians.
Cardijn’s thirst for knowledge as a seminarian, his energy and leadership, worried the Seminary Rector. Was he a ‘modernist’, attracted to the hotchpotch of ideas condemned by the Vatican in the 19th century? Archbishop Mercier sent him to the University of Louvain (Leuven) in August 1906 to study under Professor Victor Brants, a national figure who in 1892 had founded a department of sociology and economics, where he argued that Thomas Aquinas’ central theme of justice demanded ‘lower class representation’ in Parliament and mitigation of the impact on workers of the long depression of the 1880s. A month later, Mercier relented and approved Cardijn’s ordination, aged 23, as a priest.
The Christian Democrats saw the nascent Christian worker movement an ally in their opposition to conservative Catholic politics, socialist trades unions, and the Flemish language nationalists, the flamangants. The newly formed Catholic unions dedicated May 15th to Rerum Novarum, to rival the May Day celebrations of the Socialist unions. Such an organisation was the ultramontane Arthur Verhaegan’s AntiSocialistiche Werkliedbund, an anti-Socialist working man’s association formed in Ghent in 1891. In 1895 the Belgian bishops officially endorsed these ‘autonomous workers’ organisations’, the Catholic trades unions. This was the complex political world into which Cardijn was decanted as a young priest.
Up until – and beyond - the turn of the century in conservative Catholic circles nostalgic visions of Christian trade guilds and a harmonious corporate society were still powerful. But to keep pace with the Socialist unions, Catholic workers’ associations, were increasingly developing beyond mutual insurance schemes and palliative measures towards demands on employers, in the style of British trades unions. For a long while the Catholic unions retained a distinctive Catholic culture rejecting class conflict, emphasising respect for human dignity and the equal human worth of capitalist and labourer. This did not seem to impede their popularity. In Brussels between 1909-1913, Socialist Unions expanded from 8,000 to 18,000 members while membership of Catholic unions increased at a slightly faster rate, from 1,900 to 5,000. This growth was partly attributable to the appointment in Catholic dioceses of directors to new social secretariats. The dream of guilds was receding – but not extinguished.
There are cogent arguments that corporatist thinking and the creation of separate Catholic unions split the worker movement and weakened opposition to fascism. But there are counter arguments that union ‘pluralism’ encouraged competitive democratic procedures and ways of thinking. Catholic unionism did not encourage proto-fascist views in Cardijn. After a year at Louvain, he spent 1907-1912 as Vice-Rector and teacher at Notre Dame de Basse-Wavre school, an experience he described as ‘a providential misfortune’ and which drew him further into the realities of working conditions and the significance of the Socialist unions. His leisure time was taken up by visiting mills and co-operatives talking with workers. He had not forgotten his pledge on his father’s deathbed, and was not to be diverted.
In August 1911, Cardijn experienced the ‘best retreat’ of his early priesthood – his term - a visit to Britain’s unions towards the end of a violently repressed major transport strike, the first ‘bloody Sunday’, that had brought 3,500 troops to Liverpool on the orders of Home Secretary, Winston Churchill,. The young priest spent a fortnight in London at 425 Mile End Road, HQ of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside & General Labourers Union (DWRGLU), listening and learning, an experience that was to define his thinking and action. Cardijn was deeply impressed by Ben Tillett, founding member of the Independent Labour Party, general-secretary of the DWRGLU, and later Labour MP for Salford North, who spent time with him just after the London Dock strike had ended. “He [Tillett] wants first to create the strongest, the largest, the most united organisation in which he wants the workers of the whole world to feel solidarity of their interests and the unconquerable power of their union”, Cardijn noted approvingly. “Moreover he wants for every worker in particular to carry out a work of personal education, a work of moral and intellectual uplift so that each worker may feel the pressing need of more well-being and more justice”. In the 1920s there were strong echoes of Tillett within Cardijn’s passionate advocacy of the needs of young Christian workers. On his side, Tillett himself had been moved by Cardinal Manning’s personal support for him and the cardinal’s role as peacemaker in the 1889 dock strike.
In 1912 Cardijn was appointed as a curate in the parish of Laeken, North-West Brussels, containing 13,000 factory workers. Abbé Cardijn set out to know them. He formed clubs for working women where factory conditions were discussed. Three years later he was appointed director of social action for the Brussels area.
In 1914 after the German invasion of Belgium, Cardijn publicly condemned the deportation of Belgian workers to Germany. He was sentenced to six months in prison where he took the opportunity to read Marx’s Das Kapital alongside the Bible. He had a second spell in prison shortly before the end of the War. Meanwhile, he had diverted one of his women workers’ groups, mainly young seamstresses, a section of the League of Christian Women workers, into providing intelligence for the Allied forces.
Abbé Jospeh remained throughout committed to youth formation and this would also cause trouble. In 1919 he founded La Jeunesse Syndicaliste with three lay colleagues whom he had met in his parish at Laeken, Ferdinand Tonnet, Jacques Meert and Paul Garat. This new youth organisation was the precursor of Young Christian Workers (YCW); the name was changed in 1924 to defend against allegations that this was Socialism in a Chasuble. The period 1924-1925 was critical for the emergence of the YCW; by the mid-1930s it was becoming a worldwide movement. On the one hand there were the Christian Trades Unions, on the other the official Belgian Catholic Youth Association, the ACJB (Action Catholique Jeunesse Belge). For the bishops the idea of separating young Catholic workers into a separate organisation from the official national ACJB was anathema: ‘dividing the Body of Christ’. Cardinal Mercier supported this view though he respected Cardijn’s commitment to the Christian formation of workers. The ever resourceful Abbé Joseph, tacking between rival priorities, was in a difficult personal dilemma: he must have official approval for his new organisation. A visit to the Pope Pius XI was his last card.
In Rome, the story goes, Abbé Cardijn broke away from the crowd going in to a general audience and managed to beard the Pope in his private rooms. Pius XI was the son of a silk factory owner. Cardijn knew all about silk factories. And at this meeting the Pope revealed his passion for the evangelisation of the working class and his admiration for JOC/ YCW, almost certainly unaware of the disputes amongst Belgian Catholics that swirled around it. Pius XI later coined the phrase famous in the 1930s: “the Church needs the workers and the workers need the Church” which chimed exactly with Cardijn’s conviction. In 1935 the Pope gave his support to the JOC/YCW as an ‘authentic model of activism and social action’.
Cardijn had hoped his movement would influence the Socialist trades unions. By the mid-1930s the JOC had reached the Americas, Africa and Asia with, in 1938, an estimated 500,000 members worldwide. But it would be wrong to equate such numbers with influence within the secular trades unions. Gregor Siefer in his brilliant study of the worker priest movement The Church and Industrial Society wrote that despite the genuine enthusiasm of the YCW only a small avant-garde of the JOC successfully penetrated the secular worker milieu to any great extent. But the wider Cardijn methodology penetrated the whole of the Church in a remarkable way, particularly in Latin America, Philippines, and South Africa under authoritarian regimes where trades unionists were targeted by police and the military. The worker priest movement, on the other hand, also hanging loose from traditional parish ministry, ploughed a lonely furrow in Europe before being – ineffectually – banned by the Vatican.
The YCW had 2 million members in 69 countries by 1957 when a World Assembly, the first YCW International Council, brought 32,000 young members together in Rome. The See, Judge, and Act method was endorsed by Pope John XXIII’s Mater et Magister and Pacem in Terris in the early 1960s. Its emphasis on analysing the local context in the light of the Gospel became second nature to the progressive bishops of Latin America. And as students linked up with militant workers, things began to change radically led by the bishops of the NE of Brazil. This, was where Cardijn’s methodology had its most impressive impact and in no small measure, contributed to the formation of the Partido dos Trabalhadores PT (Workers’ Party) which took power under the Presidency of Lula da Silva in 2003.
Joseph Cardijn was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1965, two years before his death and burial at Laeken, his first parish. He made a significant contribution to the Second Vatican Council. The bishops and theologians preparing the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, (Joy & Hope), were explicitly instructed to use his See, Judge, and Act method of analysis. The process for his beatification started in 2013. In a time of fear and lack of historical humility, he has much to be remembered for and to teach the Catholic Church today.
Three weeks ago the President of the Board of Jewish Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, sent an open letter to Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese Ambassador to Britain. She wrote that “nobody could fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago”. Foreign Policy, a reputable and informed publication, had previously printed a story about the discovery of 13 tons of Uighur hair. Van der Zyl cited Uighurs loaded forcibly onto trains, men forced to trim their beards, women sterilised and the ‘grim spectre of concentration camps’. The Board of Jewish Deputies letter was courageous challenging stereotypes of Muslim-Jewish relations.
Newspapers and broadcasters, and, of course, Jewish publications, featured the letter together with a strong statement from Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, President of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences describing the events in Xinjiang as the “world’s worst mass atrocities”. Then came the question in Radio Four’s 2nd August Sunday programme why had the Pope said nothing? He had the opportunity. Why, according to reports, did he delete from his 5 July Angelus message support for protesters in Hong Kong against the Chinese Government’s new Security Law? Francis’ worldwide popularity is built on his known sympathy with victims, with the underdog.
The silence of Popes can be more neuralgic than their utterances. Francis will remember how Pius XII’s failure to denounce the Holocaust - once he was aware of it – undermined him and the Catholic Church despite the many Catholics, and even the Pope himself, sheltering Jews from Nazi murderers. There is a comparison to be made with the way Pius XII came under pressure from the USA to speak out in September 1942. The egregious human rights violations of the CCP, leaked drone footage from 2019 of blindfolded Uighurs awaiting transportation, and testimonies from Uighurs themselves, are being politicised and instrumentalised by the US government. China has become ‘the enemy’, a process intensified by Trump’s weakness in the polls with the November elections in sight. We are all required to take sides in a new Cold War.
So why no protest against Beijing in Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus talks? Most obviously, because difficult and delicate negotiations are taking place this year between the Holy See and CCP officials from the United Front Work Department (in charge of religious and ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs). The 2018 Holy See-Beijing Provisional Agreement about the appointment of bishops comes up for renewal in September. From the perspective of Rome this is central to ending a schism. The aim is to bring together the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, bishops selected by the State with, post-agreement, papal approval required, and the former ‘underground’ Church, bishops selected by the Pope but only recognised by the State in the Provisional Agreement. The agreement, full details not disclosed, determines who will lead at least 12 million Catholics formerly split between the two camps roughly equally.
Were the Pope to speak out, negotiations would come to an end. But the CCP has been foot-dragging. Persecution of religious minorities has not abated, many reports suggest it has got worse; persecution of Catholics loyal to Rome could easily intensify. The Holy See holds two cards in its hand: it is the last State entity to still recognise Taiwan and to have an ambassador (nuncio) in Taipei, and it knows the CCP does not want a breakdown of talks with a public Vatican denunciation to follow since that would be grist to the mill for the USA.
The three key players in current negotiations are two Italians, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Claudio Celli, a key negotiator experienced in communications, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher from Liverpool, secretary for relations with States. None of them would be described as naïve. All of them are skilled diplomats. They have the unenviable task of balancing the Church’s prophetic voice with doing everything they can to protect Catholic communities in China, and to have the opportunity to reach a huge population potentially open to evangelisation. The stakes are high.
On the Chinese side, the Pope is seen as the problem, a foreign leader capable of profoundly influencing a minority group in the Peoples Republic, undermining the creation of a subservient ‘Sinicized’- Christian Church. Hackers, believed to be Chinese, have broken in to Vatican correspondence. Right now Pope Francis would only undermine his own position by attacking Beijing in public on human rights. In his message, released four days after the 22 September 2018 Provisional Agreement was signed, he tellingly addressed “Catholics of China and the Universal Church”, calling for all to work for the Common Good, reconciliation, and for full communion amongst Chinese Catholics. Francis even referred to China’s early experience of Christianity, “the fruits of the Gospel sown in the Middle Kingdom” and its recent travails: “your constancy amid trials, and your firm trust in God’s Providence even when certain situations proved particularly adverse and difficult”.
Silence in this case is not golden. Many Faith leaders signed a strong interfaith protest letter in the 9 August Observer openly branding Chinese action in Xinjiang as genocide. Rome may be very glad that the leader of the Asian Bishops, Cardinal Bo, was one of them raising his prophetic voice on behalf of the universal Church. It is also good to see the British Board of Jewish Deputies and many rabbis deploring the fate of distant persecuted Muslims. And Marie van der Zyl was wise to avoid the word ‘Holocaust’ in her open letter; in China ‘the Holocaust’ refers to the estimated 20 million Chinese civilians who died in the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese war.
See TheArticle 10/08/2020