This one is causing no small brouhaha among reactionary Roman Catholics and others. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, made the following observations in an interview:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

As part of the diplomacy efforts, Bishop Sánchez Sorondo visited the country. “What I found was an extraordinary China,” he said. “What people don’t realise is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo concluded by saying that China is “developing well” and now has “many points of agreement” with the Vatican.

I never thought I would be quoting the Catholic Herald, but there you go. All of this is part of a serious historical deal in the making between the Chinese government and the Vatican over the appointment of bishops. For the last few centuries, there have been two Roman Catholic Churches in China. One is officially recognised by the state – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) – and the other is not. A root cause of their difference is an old problem: who appoints bishops, the state or the Vatican? The officially recognised church has bishops who are recognised by the state, while the unofficial church does not. This has been the status quo for the odd century or three.

Now a breakthrough is in the works. Pope Francis has actively encouraged a deal in which future bishops would be appointed by a process that includes input from the government and the Vatican. Things move slowly in the Roman Catholic Church, since this little conflict goes way back to the efforts by Matteo Ricci and then the ‘Rites Controversy’ of the 17th and 18th centuries. But now it may well be resolved and the two branches of the Roman Catholic Church in China may become one – following the model already in place in Vietnam.

Needless to say, Chinese commentary has seen this as a positive development (here, here and here).

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A few posts have had a dig at the bishop of Rome’s (aka the Pope) invitation to Anglo-Catholics to join the fold. Both the Dunedin School and Vulgar Marxism are, shall we say, less than sympathetic to both ‘fearful, reactionary, sexist and homophobic’ Anglicans and the ‘beast of Rome’. I’m a much more civil person than either DS and VM, as any reader here will vouch.

However, I have just been working through Gramsci again, where the question of universals appears. The very name ‘Roman Catholic’, with its claim to catholicity tied into a particular place and form of the church, indicates that the RC definition of ‘universal’ is one of exclusion. In the very act of trying to envelop various breakaway and fringe groups into the fold, Mr Ratzinger continues to enact this form of exclusive universal. Either you join us on our terms or you are not part of the universal church. However, Gramsci, while seeking to learn much from the RCs as well as the Protestants for the communist movement, breaks with this exclusive universal. He works towards an inclusive universal, one of alliances and comrades rather than heretics and grovelling prodigals.