Holy Smoke

The Pope’s China deal is falling apart. Why should any persecuted Christians trust him?

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Beijing's new rules for clergy of all religions in China have been published in English – and, disastrously for the Vatican, they make no mention of any role for Pope Francis in approving the appointment of Chinese Catholic bishops. So it looks as if the Vatican's secret deal with China, which gave the Pope nominal spiritual sovereignty over party stooges operating as bishops, is dead in the water. President Xi appears to have reneged on the agreement – having achieved his aim of breaking the back of the underground Catholic Church in China.

Reports of the debacle have come at a very inconvenient moment for the Pope, who this week is planning to visit persecuted Christians in Iraq. My guest this week is Fr Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasrean.org, a charity that helps dispossessed religious minorities in the Middle East. He reveals that some Iraqi Christians are worried that Francis will use his trip not to throw a spotlight on the their desperate situation but, instead, to call for 'dialogue' with their Muslim oppressors. Such posturing would make matters worse – rather as the Vatican's chumminess with Beijing has delivered some underground Catholics into the arms of their enemies. Fr Kiely's verdict on Rome's bungling Chinese Ostpolitik is damning and memorable. Don't miss this interview.