The Vatican continues efforts to court the Chinese Communist Party

Chinese transplant officials’ appearance at an organ-trafficking conference hosted by the Vatican last year was just a hint of the Papacy’s increasing efforts to gain favor with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In February, the Vatican made a further move towards winning over the CCP by requesting that two non-state sanctioned bishops resign in favor of two state-approved prelates (high-ranking members of the clergy), one of whom had been ex-communicated by the Vatican in 2011.

Last week, Chinese transplant officials were invited to attend the Vatican’s March 12-13 conference on organ trafficking at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences despite the controversy over their attendance a year ago. The summit came just after the replacement of the two bishops and the Vatican poised to accept a deal with China regarding the appointment of all bishops for its approximately ten million Catholics.

Many have questioned and criticized the Vatican’s decisions, citing China’s long history of religious persecution and human rights abuses. In its most recent report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) declared China to be a “country of particular concern” for its egregious violations of religious liberty.

Roughly half of Chinese Catholics belong to underground house churches, which have been systematically persecuted by the CCP. The rest are followers of the state-approved Catholic Church. Not only does the Vatican’s recent action leave the persecuted underground Catholics feeling abandoned but places them at even greater risk of imprisonment and having their organs harvested for China’s booming transplant marketplace. Practitioners of Falun Gong, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and House Christians have long been victims of the government’s organ harvesting program.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new Regulations on Religious Affairs that took effect February 1st, equates non-state approved religion to extremism and terrorism, further restricts religious freedom and tightens state control over all religions. Xi’s sinicization of religion  means the state comes first, then God. One of the CCP sanctioned bishops recently stated that, “…we, as citizens of the country, should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs.”

While other Popes have tried to develop closer ties with China, only Pope Francis has given an atheistic government, determined to suppress and control all religion, the power of investiture (the appointment of bishops).

After a recent visit to Beijing, Msgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, said in an interview, “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” He also praised China for supposedly having banned organ trafficking from executed prisoners in favor of voluntary organ donations.

China expert Father Bernardo Cervellera, rebuked Bishop Sanchez Sorondo for his naiveté, as China’s new regulations require the closure of all underground house churches.

Daniel Mark, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called Sorondo’s comments naïve and ludicrous, acknowledging that in addition to the persecution and suppression of Uyghur Muslims and House Christians, Falun Gong practitioners have been subjected to organ harvesting by the Chinese state for many years.

St. John Paul II’s biographer, George Weigel, felt Sorondo is turning “a blind eye to repression and persecution.” He said the principles of Catholic social doctrine cannot be reconciled with China’s forced labor camps, forced abortion, religious persecution and atheism.

An editorial in the Washington Post pointed out that by allowing Beijing to appoint bishops, the Vatican is “elevating the persecutors above the persecuted.”

Hong Kong’s outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen condemned the creating of ties with Communist China as “evil.”  Hong Kong Catholics held a prayer vigil after signing an open letter warning of “schism,” worried the agreement would erode the Church’s moral authority.

New York Times commentator, Yi-Zheng Lian speculated on motives, “No one, it seems, can resist the lure of the great market of China, for deodorants, cars — or congregants. Not even the Vatican.”

The Vatican’s request that China attend a second organ trafficking and transplant tourism conference has escalated international criticism, while being used as positive publicity by the Chinese leadership and the Vatican.

In addition to Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, the most vocal support  for China’s self-proclaimed transplantation reforms have come from former TTS president Francis Delmonico, one of 70 elite Academicians of the Pontifical Academy.

Additionally, Jose Nunez, the WHO officer in charge of global organ transplantation has also professed full faith in China’s claims of reform saying, “China has made big and great reforms and that’s what we want to promote, to show that things can be changed.” He declared that China’s transplant system is transparent and open and that it reports annual transplant data to the WHO, as required.

China was invited a second time to the Vatican summit despite the government’s ongoing refusal to allow independent inspections of its transplant industry and failure to provide any concrete evidence that prisoners, specifically Falun Gong and other prisoners of conscience, are no longer being subjected to organ harvesting.

Many protested the Vatican including China again this year. Shortly after the summit, Catholic news media called China’s presence at the talks just “window-dressing,” arguing that the Chinese government has never disclosed credible information about how organ transplants are done and that the official spokesman for China’s organ transplantation system has made contradictory remarks regarding the sourcing of organs from prisoners.

Over a dozen members of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China wrote an open letter to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS), urging that they be cautious with “claims of total reform of China’s transplant system.” The letter, published on March 19, refers to several pieces of evidence that belie China’s assurances of transplantation reform.

In a recent email interview, coalition member Louisa Greve added, “it’s irresponsible for international organizations to accept reform claims by an authoritarian government. She urged the Pontifical Academy, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Transplantation Society not to cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party until it can provide such data.

Consistent reports and evidence obtained from diverse but concordant sources do not support China’s claim that it has stopped sourcing organs from executed prisoners in January 2015. Instead, the data has made it quite clear that the government continues to harvest organs from death-row prisoners, religious and ethnic minorities such as Uyghurs, Tibetans, underground Christians and primarily, Falun Gong spiritual practitioners.