Sino-Vatican Agreement: A Flash of Roman Lucidity

March 21, 2023
Archbishop Paul Gallagher

In an interview with EWTN, the Catholic channel, on March 14, 2023 on the topic of “diplomatic challenges in today's world,” the Vatican's secretary for relations with the States acknowledged for the first time that the provisional agreement signed between the Holy See and China in 2018 then renewed in 2020 and 2022, was not “the best deal possible,” and that its services were working to negotiate “improvements.”

“Obviously, the objective is to get the best deal possible, which certainly this agreement is not the best deal possible because of the other party [the Chinese authorities, ed.]. They were only prepared to go so far and to agree to certain things. But this was what was possible at the time.”

A rare and precious admission from the mouth of a diplomat known for his discretion and his expertise: he is the one who directs the second section of the Secretariat of State responsible for ensuring the good relations of the Vatican with the States of the whole world.

In the interview granted to Colm Flynn for EWTN, Msgr. Paul Gallagher also provides details on the genesis of the provisional agreement concluded in 2018: “The agreement signed five years ago is the result of negotiations spanning a period of about 30 years. It is therefore the result of a long process that spans three pontificates.”

“Most of the agreement was already agreed and accepted by the Holy See and the Chinese authorities already in the time of Pope Benedict [XVI]. So it was only a bit of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. And for my part, I was not directly involved in these negotiations. It should be recalled that the prelate took office in 2014.”

Relying on the authority of his direct superior, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, Msgr. Gallagher seems imply, in veiled words, that the Holy See would not have really had a choice in 2018 “It wasn’t a really great time to sign the deal, for various reasons.”

“It was always going to be used by the Chinese party to bring greater pressure on the Catholic community, particularly on the so-called underground Church.” A diplomatic way of saying that Rome had its hand forced by Xi Jinping, without really knowing how.

Hence the importance of showing that the Holy See cannot resign itself to an unfavorable situation for Chinese Catholics: “So we just go forward. There have been some bishops appointed. Negotiations are underway for the appointment of other bishops. But, obviously, the deal could work better. In fact, we are currently negotiating a number of improvements, this is the work that is currently in progress,” explains the senior diplomat.

To respond to those who announce the bankruptcy of the Sino-Vatican agreement, Msgr. Gallagher insists on the long view that presides over the delicate relations with the Middle Kingdom: we can only progress very slowly.

“But one of the things that the Chinese and the Catholic Church and the Holy See have in common is that we don’t think in months, or even in years. We’re thinking in terms of a much longer time. And we hope that, in time, the relations between the Catholic Church in China will be shall we say much more ‘normal,’ much more fluid, much more fruitful.”

This is the first time that a senior official of the Holy See has responded with lucidity and frankness on the merits of the criticisms leveled against the 2018 agreement. What remains is to pray that this “long time” mentioned by Archbishop Gallagher, not be to the detriment of Chinese Catholics who are daily confronted with pressure from Beijing which intends to “Sinicize” religion, in other words, to make the Church pass under the Caudine forks of Maoism.