George Weigel notes in his book Evangelical Catholicism that the popes of this era have more control over the episcopate than ever before. Whereas entanglements with monarchies in the past limited the power of the Holy See to appoint bishops as it wished, the pontiff now selects bishops freely in every nation but two: China and Vietnam. Yesterday, Beijing wasted no time in explaining to the newly-elected Pope Francis just who’s boss, either:
The reaction underscored the tensions between the Vatican and China’s government, which has been accused of suppressing Catholicism under Communist rule.
Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that Beijing hoped the pope, who was elected on Wednesday, would work with Chinese officials on improving relations. But, she said, the Vatican “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.”
No sooner did China tell the Vatican not to interfere with its internal governance than it began dictating the Vatican’s relationships:
She also said the Vatican must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan before ties with Beijing improve. China considers Taiwan a renegade province that is part of its territory.
The Vatican, however, has resisted cutting ties to Taiwan and wants China to give assurances on granting religious freedom to China’s Catholics.
I’d presume that the new Pope will take that advice with as much seriousness as his predecessors. “Improving” ties with Beijing means, in this case, that they’ll be friendlier when they dictate episcopal choices to the Holy See. Simply put, no matter how the Vatican treats Taiwan, China is not about to let the Catholic Church challenge the state religion of Communism above all things temporal and spiritual.
If the Vatican withdrew recognition from Taiwan, China would still insist on interference on episcopal appointments in order to ensure that bishops don’t challenge the political and economic status quo, especially in regard to their one-child policy. The last thing Beijing would allow is a unified Catholic population of 12 million to start agitating about forced abortions and interference with God’s plan for marriage and family.