The Vatican and China: Dialogue and negotiation
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The Chinese Catholic community, together with their bishops – both recognized and not recognized by the government – are in favour of a dialogue with the authorities. But the dialogue will remain purely theoretical, if the risk of a true negotiation for building up the common good is not accepted, as Pope Francis has emphasized.

By Sergio Centofanti and Fr Bernd Hagenkord, SJ

Open and respectful dialogue is an attitude that allows us to accept the other in their diversity, recognizing their identity and their mission: walking together we are enriched, each one in function of the other. For true dialogue, it is necessary for each one to be secure in their own identity, and to recognize the identity of the other. True dialogue takes place in the dynamic of the Incarnation, by which God dialogues with humans and seeks them, in order to establish with them a relationship of salvation.

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On the other hand, negotiation – according to Pope Francis – is a practical manner of proceeding in which each one seeks to obtain something from the other: negotiation is always about getting “a bigger slice of the pie,” so to speak. But this should be done in such a way that everyone comes out a “winner.” And so every negotiation, and every accord that follows, will always be imperfect, temporary, like a spiral in a long process that is being constructed over a long period of time.

Consistently with his open and respectful style of communication, of acceptance of the other in their diversity, of recognition of the identity and mission of each one, Pope Francis has continued the commitment to promote and sustain the official dialogue with the Chinese government. In this way, real negotiation has begun again, a negotiation that in truth has never been easy, and at times has even seen abrupt interruptions. It’s happened, in fact, that the two Parties at times have re-iterated their good intentions to dialogue and reach an agreement; but then, at the moment of understanding, have pulled back because of some obstacle.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that a good part of the Church in China, not only within the “official” community, but also within the “non-official” community,” is favourable to the dialogue that’s been undertaken. Though it would be risky to speak of percentages, one could take notice of the opinion of the Chinese Bishops, whether recognized or not recognized by the Government, who have expressed their support for the resumption of dialogue and the eventual conclusion of an Accord.

A Bishop recognised by the government, who has very positively welcomed news of the resumption of the dialogue between China and the Holy See, has pointed out that the majority of Catholics support the Pope and the China-Holy See Dialogue, and are praying intensely that an agreement might be reached.

Another Bishop, not recognised by the Government, has pointed out that the resumption of the dialogue is a good thing. Now, obviously we need to consider the facts, and not just words. But seeing and speaking with one another is better than not seeing, because only by seeing and speaking can problems be addressed.

And this precisely is the dynamic and difficult art of dialogue: dialogue allows us to draw closer together, to know the identity of the other and make known to the other their own identity, so that, by engaging in dialogue, mutual intentions are made clear, beyond conventional words. It is also quite normal, in the dynamic of a dialogue, for the Parties at times to drift apart, because of the feeling of having conceded too much to the other, of having renounced their legitimate needs, and in order to better present and defend their own expectations.

In order to reach a solution that would be acceptable to both Parties, however, they must even be willing to modify what is excessive in their own expectations. For the Church’s part, this means that she must distinguish between what is essential for the Christian faith, and what is not. A serious and authentic dialogue can work when each one of the Parties accepts their Counterpart, respects the dynamic of the discussion and of differing opinions, and seeks to understand the good reasons that are the basis of different proposals for solutions to the problems.

All of this can be very gruelling. Only with a spirit of mutual trust and generosity can the rhythm of dialogue be maintained in the course of numerous and often exhausting sessions that make up negotiations. Both Parties must maintain this responsible behaviour, remaining calm when consensus seems far away, or even unobtainable, consolidating the small steps that bring them closer, always preserving a positive attitude that nourishes a growing confidence in the sincerity of the other Party.

This is the fifth in a series of in-depth articles on the dialogue between the Holy See and China.


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