Friday, January 19, 2007

Chinese-Vatican Relations Warming - Jan 19

I've got a real keeper for you here. The church is growing by leaps and bounds in China, to the tune of 3,000 souls coming to faith in Christ every day! As I read this, I began to laugh. Imagine, the big bad Chinese are all of a sudden worried about what an 80 year-old German pope thinks! My mind boggles. Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican has no real power if you think about it. It is God alone who wields the ultimate power over Chinese geopolitics. Three thousand new Christians in China added every day. Man I tell you, if I were a Chinese Communist official I'd be worried too.

Johnny Cash

Geopolitical Diary: Chinese-Vatican Relations Warming
Jan 19, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI has approved the ordination of a new bishop in China's Guangdong province, Hong Kong daily the South China Morning Post reported Thursday. Diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican have been especially strained since the Chinese failed to seek Vatican approval when appointing three bishops in 2006. China now appears to be adopting a more cooperative stance toward the Vatican -- with an eye toward thwarting any aggressive moves by the church, in the event that a pending economic crisis gives rise to domestic unrest that Beijing could find unmanageable.

Diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican were severed in 1951, two years after an officially atheist Communist government took control of China. Since then, the Church and the communists have conflicted over who has the ultimate power to appoint bishops. The Vatican asserts that only the pope can officially name bishops to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. However, the Chinese government uses its Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the state-sanctioned church, to oversee bishop appointments.

The Vatican was particularly displeased over the appointments of three bishops in 2006 in the cities of Kunming, Anhui and Xuzhou. The disagreement has divided Chinese Roman Catholics -- one group supports the Vatican, and another supports the Chinese government.

The approval of the new bishop, Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou, comes at an interesting time. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's No. 2 official, plans to meet with bishops representing Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau at the Holy See starting Jan. 19 to discuss relations with China. The Vatican has been forced to develop policies that deal with illegitimate appointments without creating divisions within the diocese or Roman Catholic community, which in China has grown to as many as 12 million, according to the Vatican. The Catholic leadership believes that 8 million of these members have not registered with the state-sanctioned church, since official government statistics report only 4 million Roman Catholics in China.

Yet China recognizes the potential strength of the Vatican as a geopolitical force. Pope John Paul II was often credited with helping to bring down the Soviets during the Cold War by using faith and the church to mobilize citizens across Europe. Pope Benedict XVI is even more aggressive when protecting Roman Catholic values, and expects reciprocity for misdeeds against the church. For example, in the controversial speech that addressed violence and Islam, he demonstrated a willingness to speak out openly for the beliefs and morals of the church. Pope Benedict's more head-on approach to addressing issues of concern for the church, coupled with his stated priority of addressing relations with Beijing, has given the Chinese incentive to mend relations with the Vatican, given its positive historical results when dealing with dissent.

China ultimately is concerned with maintaining social stability in an environment of growing social and economic unrest. Beijing is averse to the idea of conceding power to the Vatican, and opposes the idea that the pope will become the ultimate authority for Chinese Roman Catholics. But because of the inevitable media attention that China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics will bring, the Chinese are willing to compromise -- they know that drawing worldwide media attention to rifts in the Chinese Roman Catholic community ultimately would have more dire implications for the Communist Party and potentially could exacerbate social unrest.

With the Vatican's proven power to mobilize citizens, as well as the growing number of Roman Catholics in China, the Chinese recognize that cooperating with the Vatican will help to prevent future internal disorder. And China's willingness to cooperate is yet another indication that Beijing is making preparations for an impending economic crisis. By working with the Vatican, Beijing hopes to weave another safety net to help contain fallout from an economic crisis and prevent widespread domestic unrest.

Copyright 2007 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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