Will the Vatican insist on his release?

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Only by making his release a precondition for renewing the agreement with China will the Holy See be able to put an end to the prelate’s ordeal.

by Wu Xiuying

Bishop Cui Tai. From Weibo.

In October 2022, the 2018 Vatican-China agreement will expire, having been renewed on its first expiration in 2020 for another two years. Will the Vatican renew it? Chinese Catholics have no doubt that renewing the agreement is in the CCP’s best interest. But is it in the interest of the Vatican?

Here, opinions differ. Some Catholics who spoke to Bitter Winter appreciate the fact that, at least in theory, there is now only one Catholic Church in China – instead of two, the government-controlled “patriotic” and the independent “underground” – and Catholics who decide to attend the services of the Patriotic Catholic Church can now do so with the blessing of the Vatican and without feeling guilty for having participated in “schismatic” rites.

However, the majority of Chinese Catholics either were initially unhappy with the agreement or are disappointed with its results. Of course, independent opinion polls can’t be done, but Catholics obviously vote with their feet. Few of those who attended underground churches follow the patriotic bishops, even though they are now recognized by the Vatican. In a general climate of confusion, many abandoned the Catholic Church altogether. Bitter Winter has also collected the opinions of dozens of priests and lay people who, while respecting the pope and the Holy See, believe they have been misled into signing an agreement that only benefits the regime.

One test these dissident or bewildered Catholics see as crucial is whether the CCP would release the underground bishops it has arrested. Bitter Winter mentioned the case of Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang Diocese, who was arrested in May 2021 and whose whereabouts remain unknown. We have reported that, according to credible sources, the Vatican requested his release, but to no avail.

The most publicized case among Chinese Catholics concerns Bishop Augustine Cui Tai, who was a coadjutor bishop in the diocese of Xuanhua, in Hebei province. Bishop Cui Tai, 72, has been in prison for long periods since 2007, although he was periodically released for a few days during Chinese New Year and other holidays. From January to June 2020, he enjoined his longest period of freedom, since after the Chinese New Year he was confined to his home due to the pandemic. But then he was arrested again. According to Xuanhua Catholics, there are several rumors but it is not known where he is being held.

Hong Kong's Cardinal Zen (himself arrested in May, later released on bail) holding a sign calling for the release of Bishop Cui Tai.  From Facebook.
Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen (himself arrested in May, later released on bail) holding a sign calling for the release of Bishop Cui Tai. From Facebook.

Bishop Cui Tai is one of the so-called “conscientious objectors” who refuse to join the Patriotic Association despite being authorized and even encouraged by the Vatican. He is accused by the CCP of telling his flock that even though he did not join the Patriotic Association, he is in communion with the Holy See. But it is true, according to the Vatican itself, which has repeatedly stated that it does not encourage conscientious objection but considers objectors to be Catholics in good standing whose choice should be respected.

Bishop Cui Tai is a popular prelate and his detention is a huge scandal. According to credible information, he was repeatedly tortured in prison because he stubbornly refuses to join the Patriotic Association. His ordeal proves there is something wrong with the 2018 deal. Many Chinese Catholics believe that, as he did unsuccessfully for Bishop Zhang Weizhu, the Vatican is now quietly asking for the release. of Bishop Cui Tai as well.

However, asking is not enough. The release of conscientious objector bishops, including Bishop Cui Tai, should be a precondition for renewing the agreement. Unless this happens, Bishop Cui Tai and others will continue to be detained and tortured.

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