Since the death of Mao, religion has revived immensely in China. But who is to be the master of the growing churches?
Every power in the world must now come to terms with China’s rise to superpower status; last week it was the turn of the Vatican, a global soft superpower. An opaque and ambiguous agreement seems to have resolved decades of diplomatic stalemate over the appointment of bishops for China’s 12 million Catholics, although that figure, too, is shrouded in uncertainty. The Chinese authorities have for decades demanded that they, and not some foreign power, should choose their country’s religious leaders; the Vatican has for just as long resisted. Now it appears that the pope will recover the power to choose bishops, but only from a shortlist nominated by the government.
The agreement enraged those who feel that there can be no compromise with the Beijing government. An unknown number of priests and bishops, perhaps 12, are still detained in China, and some are believed to have died in prison. This agreement does nothing for them. On the other hand, it does not involve full diplomatic relations between Beijing and Rome, which would require the Vatican to give up its recognition of Taiwan.