By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tA blistering Vatican statement today accuses China of “unacceptable and hostile acts” during a recent government-orchestrated assembly of Chinese Catholics, which it said smacked of “fear and weakness," a "repressive attitude” and “intransigent intolerance,” producing a “grave loss of trust.”
tNot only is it unusual for the Vatican to target a specific country in such public fashion, but today’s statement also ruptures the quiet diplomacy that has characterized the Vatican’s “China policy” since the papacy of Paul VI.
tMost observers say the current row marks the most serious crisis in Sino-Vatican relations in recent memory, with one prominent Catholic expert on China gloomily claiming that things are headed “back to the time of Mao.”
tThough there are no reliable religious statistics in China, conventional estimate peg the country’s Catholic population at around 13 million. China has long been a top diplomatic priority of the Vatican, not only because of its status as an emerging global superpower, but because China experts believe there’s significant potential for missionary expansion if the climate for religious freedom were to improve.