Worshippers at masses in Hong Kong and Taiwan were largely upbeat Sunday about a new deal between China and the Vatican, despite fears Beijing is trying to increase control over the Church.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the outspoken former Bishop of Hong Kong, accused Vatican officials of “selling out” ahead of Saturday’s agreement and in a blog post shortly after the announcement he raised concern over its impact.
“What will the government say to Catholics in China? ‘Obey us, the Holy See is already in agreement with us?'” Zen wrote.
Comments on social media accused the Vatican of turning a blind eye to a “silent cultural revolution” in China, where churches have been destroyed in recent months and there has been a clampdown on Bible sales.
But churchgoers in Hong Kong gave the deal a cautious welcome.
A parishioner who gave her name as Teresa at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong said: “More contact is positive,” adding she was not worried warming ties between Beijing and the Vatican would lead to interference in the semi-autonomous city’s Catholic churches.
Another who gave her name as Nikki said: “Any cooperation between the two sides has to be a good thing, as long as it’s equal cooperation.”
In Taiwan, some worshippers worried the new deal meant the island would lose its only official ally in Europe.
Beijing sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory and demands its allies sever official relations. The Vatican is one of only 17 countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Taipei instead of with Beijing.
Online comments on Taiwan’s Liberty Times Facebook page accused the Vatican of “dealing with the devil”.
But churchgoers remained confident.
“I think the pope’s consideration in signing the agreement is to promote religious freedom rather than establishing diplomatic relations with China, so there is no need to politicize him,” said parishioner Yuan Shi-min at Our Lady of Fatima in Taipei.
The Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist and religious groups are tightly controlled by the state.
China’s roughly 12 million Catholics are divided between a state-run association whose clergy are chosen by the government and an unofficial church which swears allegiance to the pope.
The agreement struck Saturday aimed at resolving a decades-old dispute over who gets to name bishops, and could lead to a rapprochement for the first time since diplomatic ties were severed in 1951.
Shortly after the deal was unveiled, Pope Francis recognized seven clergy appointed by Beijing.