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Understanding the 2018 China-Vatican agreement a year later

The present Sinicization campaign has grown more determined since Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012, and the government control of Catholicism has reached its highest level since the death of Mao in 1976.

t has been more than a year since the Sino-Vatican agreement signed on September 22, 2018, and the situation of China’s Catholics continues to attract media attention. In my long career of researching and publishing works on China’s Catholic history, I’ve never before received so much attention from the mainstream media and scholarly community than I received during the last year – everyone in the Western world, it seems, has concluded that China’s Catholic Church has entered its most intense era of transformation. There has been a rather impassioned movement to depict the Vatican as “naïve” regarding the true situation for Catholics in China, or even more pointedly, as a “betrayer” of the Chinese Church. I just met a Chinese nun after a talk I delivered at Seton Hall University, and she again confirmed the confusion many Chinese Catholics feel over how the Holy See appears to be negotiating with state authorities that are, as many news sources announce, destroying Christian churches throughout China. The news has been intense. A 2018, New York Times headline, for example, sensationally read, “Chinese Police Dynamite Christian Megachurch,” and included a photograph of a Shanxi church collapsing in clouds of billowing smoke.

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