Next month, the Vatican will talk to Beijing about renewing its 2018 deal with the Chinese Communist Party that effectively allowed President Xi to choose the country’s Catholic bishops. He has used this power to force Catholics loyal to Rome to join the puppet Catholic church set up by Chairman Mao in the 1950s. They can no longer refuse on the grounds that they recognise only the Pope’s Church because Francis himself has validated the orders of Xi’s party stooges.
But the Holy Father has done more than that: he has ostentatiously failed to condemn China’s savage assaults on human rights, the worst of which is its attempt to eradicate the country’s Muslim Uyghurs ethnic minority by herding them into concentration camps and forcing Uighur women to have abortions.
As I say in this episode of Holy Smoke, the Pope’s behaviour is not just a disgrace but also a mystery. The Catholic Church has gained nothing from the 2018 pact. On the contrary, it has given Beijing a handy excuse to intensify its harassment of Catholics. So why is the Vatican apparently keen to renew a deal that so badly reflects on it?
One plausible explanation is money. Rome hasn’t got any. China enjoys nothing more than buying influence. This year, claims surfaced that the Communist Party is quietly slipping the Vatican £1.6 billion a year in order to buy the Pope’s silence about the Uyghurs, the subjugation of Hong Kong and the demolition of churches. But no evidence has been produced to support this conspiracy theory.
My guests are the journalist Catherine Lafferty and Fr Benedict Kiely, a campaigner on behalf of persecuted religious minorities.