The chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has heaped high and unexpected praise on China, insisting that the atheistic communist regime has created the best model for living out Catholic social teaching today.
After visiting Beijing for the first time some months ago, Argentinean Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo reportedly returned to the Vatican full of enthusiasm for the Asian country, and this week he told a journalist that “at this moment, the Chinese are the ones implementing Catholic social teaching best.”
The Chinese “look for the common good and subordinate other things to the general welfare,” Bishop Sánchez insisted in a Spanish-language interview with the Vatican Insider, saying that the Italian economist Stefano Zamagni agrees with him.
In describing his visit, Sánchez said he “found an extraordinary China” with an exceptional work ethic. What many people don’t know, he said, “is that the central Chinese value is work, work, work. There’s no other way, basically it’s what Saint Paul said: whoever does not work should not eat.”
“You don’t have shantytowns, you don’t have drugs, young people do not take drugs. There is like a positive national consciousness, they want to show that they have changed, and now they accept private property,” he said.
With forced abortions, slave labor, the rampant persecution of Christians, severely limited freedoms, and a church demolition campaign under China’s one-party system, it is hard to imagine how anyone—let alone a high ranking Catholic prelate—could put forward China as an example of Catholic social teaching done right, and social media has predictably lit up with commenters excoriating the apparently delusional bishop for descending into “self-parody.”
Sanchez’ intense dislike of the United States may provide one possible explanation for his surreal statement, since he wishes to place China under a comparatively favorable light next to America.
The bishop took pains to show a number of presumed points of convergence between the Vatican and China, insisting that Beijing defends “the dignity of the person” better than other countries, that organ donation “has increased enormously,” and that China is assuming a position of “moral leadership” in the area of combating climate change, which other countries “have abandoned,” in evident reference to the United States.
“The economy doesn’t dominate politics as it does in the United States,” he declared. “How is it possible that multinational oil companies control Trump,” he asked, “when we know how much this is hurting the earth?”
Whereas western neoliberal thought has “liquidated the concept of the common good,” he added, “the Chinese, on the contrary, propose work and the common good.”
In this moment, the Chinese “have a moral quality that you don’t find in many places.”
It is difficult to square Bishop Sánchez’ personal understanding of the common good with that of the Catholic Church. In its official Catechism, the Church teaches that in the very first place, the common good presupposes “respect for the person” and individual freedoms, something alien to modern Chinese culture.
“In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion,” the Catechism states.
In its most recent report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom declared China to be a “country of particular concern” for its egregious violations of religious liberty against Christians and others.
During 2016, “as China’s President Xi Jinping further consolidated power, conditions for freedom of religion or belief and related human rights continued to decline,” the report states.
“Authorities target anyone considered a threat to the state, including religious believers, human rights lawyers, and other members of civil society. In 2016, the Chinese government regularly emphasized the ‘sinicization’ of religion and circulated revised regulations governing religion, including new penalties for activities considered ‘illegal’ and additional crackdowns on Christian house churches,” the report adds.