The subtle, difficult yet important points of the China-Vatican agreement
In the past few days, an article from Taiwan’s Central News Agency based on Gianni Valente’s interview with professor Liu Guopeng of CASS (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) has stirred bitter controversy around China.
The article basically claims that CASS is affiliated with the State Council, and thus it is an official voice. It states that because the China-Vatican agreement recognizes the ultimate power of the Pope in appointing the bishops, in reality the agreement goes against the Chinese constitution, which stipulates the party’s ultimate leadership and forbids foreign interference in China’s internal affairs. That is, the article apparently arouses internal opposition against President Xi Jinping and the present party leadership, which betrayed the party constitution in signing the agreement.
It looks like a clever trap: if the Holy See denies that this is the nature of the agreement, this triggers internal diatribes among Catholics, some of whom have been against talking to “evil communist China” in the first place; if it says nothing, then de facto it supports China’s internal polemicists, who may want to use the agreement with the Vatican to oppose President Xi. He has angered many senior officials with his anti-corruption campaign and also with his drive to try to meet US trade demands in the ongoing tense commercial negotiations.
Below we have translated professor Liu’s stern reply against misunderstanding spirit of his interview.
Yet, perhaps there was something in the interview that was not clear enough. Political recognition of the agreement rests on the basis that the Marxist and materialist Chinese Communist Party has no “religious powers” over the religious sphere because it is atheistic, unlike in the Chinese imperial past when the emperor had some religious attributes.
At the same time, for practical reasons, with documents spanning over 15 years, the party recognized the valuable contribution of religion to building a harmonious society. Moreover, the Church is a religious institution; it has no political agenda.
Therefore, the agreement arises from a clear distinction in principle between politics and religion. In this context, given that the Catholic religion requires the unity of all Catholics with the bishop of Rome, the party could not but admit this religious characteristic, which again is not political but religious.
Perhaps the misunderstanding of many media outlets on this difficult issue came from blurring the line between politics and religion, which is a fundamental Western value since the 18th century Enlightenment. Yet, this difference is extremely important because it opens in theory a whole new perspective for China and the world.
A reply by Liu Guopeng
On January 14, 2019, La Stampa’s online platform Vatican Insider published my interview with Italian journalist Gianni Valente on the China-Vatican “interim agreement”. Based on the content of the interview, the article was published simultaneously in three languages: Italian, English, and Spanish.
The interview aimed to emphasize that the historical breakthrough made by China and the Vatican in the “provisional agreement” signed on September 22, 2018 was hard-won, and the Chinese side recognized the Pope’s ultimate power, the Chinese Catholic Church, and general communion of the World Catholic Church. Unexpectedly, Huang Yashi, a journalist for the Central News Agency of Taiwan, by deliberately twisting my words, pulling them out of context, and misattributing things, added a lot of content based on subjective speculation.
For example, «Liu Guopeng declared that the principle of independent management [translator’s note: of the Church in China, a basic tenet of religious management in China] in China is finished», or «Liu Guopeng declares that the principle of independence [of religion in China]» has been abolished and that this is completely different from the previous official position of the Chinese Communist Party.
After that, this false story was successively reported by Hong Kong Ming Pao, Duowei Network, AFP, Lianhe Zaobao, Reuters, et cetera. Many overseas Chinese media and international media outlets reprinted it. None of the above media respected or adopted the content of actual source, Vatican Insider (which now has a Chinese translation). Moreover, the first half of the false stories has my original name, and later it “slims down” to become Liu Peng, confusing me with the famous scholar Liu Peng!
I hereby repeat that as a scholar, I am only concerned with an objective and rational vision, and with reasonable and reliable basis to provide analysis and insights on issues in my professional field. I have no intention and it is not possible to replace national authorities as some kind of spokesman on religious policy. Neither do I intend to overstep my boundaries or seek a political post. And in no way do I ignore the boundaries between academia and politics!
From the initiators at Taiwan’s Central News Agency and the Hong Kong Ming Pao, Duowei Network, AFP, Lianhe Zaobao, Reuters, AFP and other media, I do not demand addressing the rights and wrongs of the matter; I only express my silent contempt and deep regret!
2019年1月14日意大利《新闻报》（La Stampa）旗下网络媒体 Vatican Insider(《梵蒂冈内部通讯》)刊出了该媒体意大利记者嘉尼(GIANNI VALENTE)针对本人有关中梵《临时协议》的采访内容,文章先以意大利文、英文、西班牙文三种语言同时发表。