A leading commentator on the Church in China said a Vatican official’s proclamation that the Communist state “is the best implementer of the Church’s social doctrine” is making “a laughing stock of the Church.”
Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, said in an interview with the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that Beijing “is defending the dignity of the person,” and “that China is evolving very well,” even calling the country “extraordinary.”
“When my friends tell me they are going to China, I always advise them not to stop at the shopping centers, the ultra-luxury hotels and the skyscrapers, but also to go out to the peripheries to get a better picture of real China,” said Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, which closely covers the Catholic Church in China.
“Presenting China as the ‘Land of Wonders’ is a bit too far. In his interview following his recent trip to Beijing, Bishop Sanchez Sorondo describes a China that does not exist or that vigilant Chinese escorts did not show him,” Cervellera said in a Feb. 7 editorial published in AsiaNews.
Sánchez Sorondo attended a conference on organ donation last year in Beijing, where he said “China could be a model we need today to respond to globalization, a model for the dignity and freedom of human beings, a model for the eradication of the new kind of slavery-organ trafficking.”
In 2015, the communist country announced it was stopping the practice of using organs from executed prisoners, and the next year announced all donors were volunteers. Despite the assurances of the government, many human rights activists are skeptical that the use of prisoners for organs has actually ended.
In his interview with Vatican Insider, the bishop said the Chinese government holds “the common good above all else, everything else comes second to the common good.”
“I met an extraordinary China: what people don’t realize is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.”
Sánchez Sorondo also claimed there were not shantytowns in China, nor any drug use by young people.
However, China National Narcotics Control Commission has recently stated the drug problem in the country is “spreading at a fast pace.” Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has condemned China’s “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of addicts.
Drug dealers often face capital punishment in a country that leads the world, by far, in executions.
The bishop also made no mention of the stark poverty and lack of basic rights experienced by rural migrants to China’s growing cities, who do not have the basic paperwork required to receive social services outside their home villages.
“Did our bishop try to go to the south of the capital, where for months the city government has been destroying buildings and houses and driving away tens of thousands of migrant workers? Not to mention the suburbs of Shanghai or other Chinese megalopolis, where a “cleansing” is underway and a ban on the “low-end” and defenseless population?” Cervellera asked.
Sánchez Sorondo also used the opportunity of his interview to positively compare the communist regime to the United States under Donald Trump.
“The economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, as the Americans themselves say. How is it possible for oil multinationals to influence Trump? Knowing that all this hurts the earth, as the encyclical [Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’] and scientists say. Liberal thought has dismissed the concept of the common good, it does not even want to take it into account, it states that it is an empty idea, without any benefits. On the contrary, the Chinese, no, they propose work and the common good,” he said.
Cervellera called Sánchez Sorondo “naïve” and said China has the “most destroyed and poisonous environment in the world.”
“What we need to mention, instead, is that in China the economy and politics are the same thing; that the billionaires sit in the Chinese parliament and determine politics according to their interests, which are not those of the rest of the population,” the priest said.
The interview with Sánchez Sorondo comes during a flurry of diplomatic activity between the Vatican and China. Numerous reports are claiming an agreement will soon be made on the appointment of bishops in the country, with the government playing a prominent role in the selection of Church leaders.
The government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association supervises an “open” Catholic Church – which does not recognize the authority of the pope. A parallel “underground” Church exists which recognizes papal authority and faces harassment from government officials.
Cervellera said the pursuit for an agreement with the Chinese government may have influenced the effusive praise heaped on the Communist regime by Sánchez Sorondo.
“We can understand that in the enthusiasm of wanting an agreement between China and the Vatican, Chinese culture, Chinese people and Chinese mentality are exaggerated and exalted,” the priest said.
“But the idolization of China is an ideological affirmation that makes a laughing stock of the Church and harms the world,” he concluded.
Since the election of Francis, Sánchez Sorondo has not been afraid to court controversy, or even appear partisan, in his role at the pontifical academies.
In 2016, he drew criticism for inviting U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to the Vatican in April 2016, during his campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Last year, the bishop said Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement was a “slap in the face” to the Vatican.
In November, he invited several U.S. politicians – all Democrats – to a conference on climate change taking place in the Vatican.