Wednesday’s Asian and Europen editions of The Wall Street Journal included a 300 word editorial [subscriber only] commenting upon a recent White House visit paid by Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong. The editorial correctly notes that this visit was not noted in China’s state media, and speculated that this was partly because the state media hoped that nobody would notice. That’s probably true.
On the other hand, Cardinal Zen has never been publicity-shy, and the fact that he made little effort to trumpet this visit suggests that he had his own reasons for keeping it quiet (indeed, the late May visit wasn’t covered in the Hong Kong or US media – including the Wall Street Journal – so far as I can tell). Likewise, the White House made no extraordinary announcement to trumpet it, either.
My guess is that both Zen and the White House realize that the Vatican and Beijing are at a sensitive point in their ongoing diplomacy (of which the forthcoming Papal letter plays an important part) and had no interest in upsetting the Chinese side. The fact that the news of the visit leaks via a Wall Street Journal editorial – several weeks after the fact – is strong evidence, indeed.
For years, the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page has been admirably steadfast and unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom worldwide. However, like so many critics of repressive religious policies in China and elsewhere, the Journal and its brethren either refuse to recognize the complexity of the situation in China, or just simply refuse to update their understanding. Thus, in the Journal editorial we get the tired, old, factually incorrect assertions about “China’s ‘official’ Catholic Church, the Catholic Patriotic Association.”
Factually incorrect because the Catholic Patriotic Association isn’t a Church at all; it’s a government administrative body, established in 1957, with regulatory control of Chinese Catholics and their places of worship. But China’s Catholics, its priests, its sisters, and even its bishops, are no more required to join the CPA than they are required to join Rotary. This is a verifiable point, but the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial writers don’t seem very interested in looking beyond their prejudices. A further case in point is the Journal‘s incorrect assertion that Cardinal Zen is “the Vatican’s chief negotiator with China.”
Quite simply, he’s not. This is an easily verified fact, and if the Journal had bothered to actually look into the situation they would have learned that Vatican diplomacy with China has mostly bypassed Zen. As reported in Korazym, when the Vatican decided to dispatch diplomats to Beijing, they dispatched Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli (whom I discussed in a post earlier in the week).
Is it really too much to ask that those who pontificate on important points of faith bother to know the facts about that faith? I have no idea whether the Journal‘s editors are ignorant of China’s Catholic situation. Maybe so, maybe not. But whatever the reasons for their flawed and factually incorrect editorial, the truth is that it helps nobody in China. If the Journal were truly interested in supporting China’s Christians, it would make an effort to recognize the complexity of the situation in which they live.
Finally, a personal point. Over the last week some critics of my reporting on Shanghai’s Catholics have suggested that I am blind to the plight of China’s Underground Christians. Let me assure you: I am not. At the same time, I feel that the Western media has suffered from a dearth of reporting on the lives of “open” Church Catholics in China, and that dearth has contributed to a biased and distorted view of religious life in China. It is my very modest hope that my reporting on the open Church Catholics in Shanghai will play a positive role in a more robust understanding of China’s religious situation. The Cultural Revolution ended in 1976; since then, something new has emerged. It serves nobody – neither China’s Christians nor interested parties in the West – to believe otherwise.