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09/29/2020 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern) – Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published an opinion piece in First Things, a conservative Catholic journal on religion and public policy, regarding the renewal of a provisional agreement between the Vatican and China.  In the op-ed, Pompeo was highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for their record of human rights abuses against religious minorities and urged the Vatican to serve as a “moral witness” by being wary of the deal.

The original agreement, signed by the Holy See and China in 2018, has never been made public by either sides.  However, many assume that the accord allowed the CCP to have some authority over the naming of bishops within China.  This allows the Catholic Church to hold some formal structure throughout China, while still subject to CCP regulation.  Even with this formal structure established, China still has an expansive network of underground churches and pastors, operating outside of the CCP-approved Church.

Pompeo is not alone in his concern over the renewal of this deal.  Many human rights organizations also condemn the agreement due to the CCP’s consistent oppression of religious minorities across the country.  In Xinjiang, Uyghur Muslims are being taken systematically detained in so-called re-education camps that witnesses have compared to concentration camps.  In some cases, manufacturing companies in Xinjiang are using Uyghurs as slave laborers, even prompting Congress to vote on a bill to prevent the products of forced labor to enter the American marketplace.

Christians are also not immune from the CCP’s oppression.  In July, ICC released a report of the tactics utilized by the Chinese government to persecute Christians.  Destroying churches, arresting pastors, and removing crosses are just a few examples of the CCP’s “Sinicization” campaign, aimed at subjecting religion to the Communist Party by either eliminating religion or conforming it to reflect the Party’s own beliefs.

Pompeo writes that he sees the renewal as an opportunity for the Church to live out its own teachings on religious freedom and solidarity.  “[These teachings] should now be forcefully and persistently conveyed by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program.”

However, the Secretary’s comments did not come without criticism.  According to a story from Reuters, some Vatican officials were “taken aback” by Pompeo’s comments, defending the deal’s extension by conceding that while not perfect, it gives the Vatican a direct channel for dialogue with Beijing after a nearly 70-year break.

“I pray that, in dealing with the [CCP],” Pompeo urges, “the Holy See and all who believe in the divine spark enlightening every human life will heed Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John, ‘The truth will set you free.’”