This article in the New York Times by an expert in Chinese affairs analyzes the Vatican’s seeming move toward rapprochement with Beijing.

If you are interested in this story, the article provides some interesting fresh angles–the author recognizes that one of the difficulties the Catholic Church has which the Protestant groups are free of is the fact that the Catholic Church is not only spiritual, but also has a diplomatic and political arm.

A major explanation for the increasing differential is that the Roman Catholic Church wields not only religious and moral authority, but also political and diplomatic power.

The Catholic Church has a relatively unified command structure, a well-defined ideology and a disciplined organizational backbone. It has global reach and mass appeal, commands great loyalty and has long demonstrated the ability to survive and expand, all on the merits of peaceful soft power. In each of these ways, it rivals, perhaps even bests, the C.C.P.

And so, naturally, the C.C.P. sees Chinese Catholics’ allegiance to the pope as a direct challenge to their allegiance to the party.

The report from Bishop Sorondo (pictured above) about his recent visit to China has no doubt been timed to help lubricate the relationship between Rome and Beijing. His naive opinion, however, has been shot down very hard by observers. George Weigel at the National Review hit hard:

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo seems to have been much impressed by a recent tour of the PRC, noting in an interview that the Chinese “do not have shantytowns” and Chinese young people “do not take drugs,” which he attributed to a “positive national conscience.” In that same interview, the Argentine prelate also managed to get in a dig at El Norte, claiming that, in China, “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States.”

What the bishop evidently did not see, or conjure with, during his tour were the following:

  • There are over 1,000 laogai camps spread across China, where slave labor is the rule and political prisoners are frequently murdered, so their transplantable organs can be harvested to benefit the more politically reliable members of the population.
  • In China, the state, not a husband and wife, determine the number of children a couple can have, and while the notorious one-child policy has been replaced by a two-child policy, the regime continues to insist that official cadres, not parents, decide on the number of children a family may welcome.
  • To enforce its internal population policies, the Chinese state claims the right to conduct compulsory abortions when women become pregnant in violation of state-determined birth quotas — a grotesque cruelty regularly practiced in the PRC today.
  • China’s draconian population-control policies have resulted in what amounts to a genocide of unborn baby girls, which has resulted in the most imbalanced boy-to-girl ratio of any country on the planet.
  • China’s people have no right of free movement within their own country, as the ministry of public security assigns every subject of the regime an official residence, a hukou, which is usually the home of one’s parents; yet many Chinese do move away from their hukou, making them illegal aliens in their own country.
  • China is an officially atheistic state, according to the Chinese Communist Party, and religious persecution is a staple of the regime’s repressive apparatus. Sánchez’s statements inevitably implicate the pope he serves and cast doubt not only on the prudence of the Vatican’s current attempts at a démarche with the PRC but on the integrity of the Holy See.
  • Those are the facts. To try to square them with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church requires something approaching a psychotic detachment from reality — or, worse, a willful ignorance, turning a blind eye to repression and persecution in order to indulge fantasies of a socialist paradise freed from the unpleasantness of bourgeois liberal society.


One can appreciate that under extreme persecution church authorities might begrudgingly make an agreement with an oppressive regime while gritting their teeth, but that a senior churchman should actually say that China is the place where Catholic social teaching is most successfully applied beggars belief.

Or maybe the bishop is mistaking Catholic social teaching for socialism.

He wouldn’t be the first to do so.