ROME — With much of the Catholic world still scratching its head about the lack of detail on a new deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops, one expert close to the situation has confirmed that the Vatican’s “Vietnam model” was a starting point for the proposal.
In comments to Crux, Henry Cappello, who said he has knowledge of original plans for the China deal, said that while he did not participate in meetings when the framework of the agreement was discussed, “I’m aware that the Vietnam proposal was, if not a blueprint, definitely a lead” in discussing how the agreement with China should look.
However, “there are different ways of having relationships between other nations and the Vatican. There is not one way of doing things,” he said, noting that the specifics of a deal might vary, the Vatican-China agreement, while likely similar to the Vietnam model, could contain modifications suited to the situation in China.
“Vietnam has had a particular deal which suits Vietnam, so that gives an openness to other countries for other possibilities, that’s the wisdom of it,” he said.
During an in-flight press conference on Tuesday after wrapping up a four-day trip to the Baltics, Pope Francis himself added just a few details.
“I signed the deal,” he added, “I’m responsible. The others worked for over ten years. This is not an improvisation, it’s a journey.”
The pope also prayed for the suffering of the clandestine Church and for those who don’t understand. Concerning the bishops in China, the pope said that their nomination will be the fruit of a dialogue.
“But the pope nominates them,” he said, “this is clear.”
The pope described the deal as the result of a “process that has been going on for years” and born from the work of a Vatican commission, even though the pontiff took full responsibility for the result.
“You know that when you make a contract, both sides lose something. This is the law and we go ahead. This one went two steps ahead and one back, two ahead and one back,” Francis said. “The issue of the bishops was studied case by case. The dossier of each one of them landed on my desk. I was responsible for signing the case of the bishops.”
The reference was to the rehabilitation of eight government-approved bishops originally appointed without the Vatican’s approval, one of whom has since died.
President of the “CIV – Caritas in Veritate International” organization, Cappello has traveled to China multiple times every year for the past 25 years to offer training sessions to the seven formerly excommunicated bishops, who have now been approved by the Holy See.
Given his years of travel and teaching, Cappello has formed strong ties with both bishops approved by the Holy See and those backed by the communist government’s Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
He has already traveled to China multiple times this year. During a visit at the end of January, Joseph Ma Yinglin, the government-backed bishop of Kunming and president of China’s registered bishops conference, explained the proposed deal.
Though no specific details have been released, “we know there is a process of how bishops will be selected in China, this was one of the main criteria for discussions. It would probably be something similar to what Vietnam would have, knowing that each country is a unique country, and it has its own approaches to the appointment of bishops, especially because of the nature of China,” he said.
Since the 1949 Communist takeover of China, Catholicism in the country has been split between an “official” church that cooperates with the government and an “undergound” church which resists its control.
The lifting of the excommunications, then, means that all bishops in China are now approved by the Holy See, however, what will happen to the underground bishops is still unknown.
The agreement between China and the Vatican was signed Saturday morning in Beijing by Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and Wang Chao, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, and their respective delegations.
In his comments to Crux, Cappello also confirmed rumors that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose red hat was taken away earlier this summer after allegations that he abused a minor, had been involved in the negotiation process.
“What I know is that McCarrick was the envoy, officially or unofficially, of the Church, maybe of Pope Francis,” he said.
“He definitely was involved, maybe not at the round table discussing the issues, the main pillars, and compiling and forming the agreement, but definitely he played a role,” Cappello said, noting that McCarrick travelled to China “over many different years. His last trip was last year,” before the scandals came out.
Cappello, who personally knows the seven bishops whose excommunications were lifted, said he has no knowledge of the truth of rumors that some of the reconciled bishops have children or mistresses.
“None of them, from the criteria I know, have mistresses and children,” he said. However, he said, Catholics in China have long spoken of the children and lovers of certain bishops, saying their existence is common knowledge.
Cappello said he reached out to a number of the seven who have been reconciled with Rome, and though he has yet to receive a response, “I can assure you that several of these bishops who were validly but illicitly ordained, and now they are right with the Vatican, they were praying themselves for the past several years that this would happen, and I am sure they are overjoyed.”
In his view, Cappello said the heart of the agreement is that it unifies the Church and its shepherds. The idea, he said, is that “there would be one Church, one Catholic Church in China, not a community which is divided.”
“I think we should give it time. This is important. Let’s give it a chance, let’s see how it works, because sometimes our fears cloud us so much that we start talking hypothetically…Let’s give this agreement a chance to work, and let’s fine tune.”