Catholics argue over the value of a breakthrough deal with China

TOUGH public arguments, including some colourful name-calling, are going on between influential figures in the Catholic church. Not, this time, about the status of divorcees who remarry, or any other pastoral or theological conundrum, but about China.

For decades, two separate structures have practised Catholicism in China. One is the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), established by the Beijing authorities in 1957 and unrecognised by the Vatican. The other is the long-persecuted, semi-clandestine church headed by bishops who were canonically ordained by Rome. This situation reflects China’s refusal to host institutions which defer to a foreign authority, and Rome’s belief that only its blessing can make a bishop legitimate.

As the prospects emerge of a historic diplomatic breakthrough between the Holy See and China, two very different impulses are in conflict. One is the anti-communist tradition of speaking truth to atheist power, whatever the price. The other is a…

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