Tuesday, February 7, 2017
John Allen has a piece on what he calls Pope Francis's "puzzling" remarks on religious freedom in China. Here's a bit:
In the English translation provided by El Pais, here’s what the pope is quoted as having said: “In China, churches are crowded. In China they can worship freely.”
In the original Spanish, the pope’s statement wasn’t quite that bald. What he said was, “En China las iglesias están llenas. Se puede practicar la religión en China,” which translates as, “In China the churches are full … one can practice religion in China.”
There is, of course, a big difference between saying religion can be practiced someplace, which can imply despite difficulties and dangers, and claiming that one can “worship freely” there.
Nevertheless, the fact that Pope Francis appeared to suggest that the climate for religious freedom in China is basically positive likely will irritate, even outrage, people who know the reality, and who have been working on behalf of the country’s religious minorities.
I hope there will be some clarification coming from the Holy See, or ideally from the Holy Father himself. It is not merely puzzling, but simply false, to state that "[i]n China they can worship freely." (Not only is the freedom of religion -- correctly understood to include religiously motivated action in the public square -- not protected, not even the mere "freedom of worship" is in fact respected.) The Spanish statement -- "one can practice religion in China" -- is, I suppose, technically true, in the sense that one can always practice religion in totalitarian or tyrannical societies . . . if one is willing to be punished for it. Allen concludes:
Of course, Francis may be engaged in that time-honored Vatican strategy of playing the long game, playing down provocative rhetoric in order to advance the relationship with Beijing, ideally affording Rome greater leverage to achieve positive change. Further, the pope may be concerned that Christians on the ground in China would be the ones to pay the price should he indulge in finger-pointing and denunciations.
Still, those Catholics in China these days behind bars, or who fear ending up there, may be forgiven for wishing that, once in a while, their pope would speak publicly and clearly about their sacrifice.
Whenever that day may be, it certainly wasn’t the El Pais interview.
It certainly wasn't.