Friday, May 05, 2006

David vs. Goliath, rnd 2.

The Financial Times brings us the next installment of the Hu vs. the Pontiff.  This round the Pope lands the first punch.
Pope Benedict said on Thursday China’s appointment of two Catholic bishops without his blessing was a “grave violation of religious freedom” as a standoff with Beijing over control of church posts escalated.
This is the kind of subtlety one should expect from the head of a bureaucracy who uses an official language over 2000 years old, and that hasn't been used in public for about 400 of those years.  The Holy Father has drawn the Vatican's line in the sand: religious freedom means the religion choosing leadership as it deems appropriate.  I'm guessing Hu's counterpunch will be something to the effect of, "religious freedom means self determination within national groups."  The lines will be drawn.
As established yesterday, the Chinese and Holy See are both old, proud, patient institutions.  I do find it interesting that Beijing waited to start this type of scuffle until after Pope John Paul II was out of the picture, and long enough into Benedict's tenure that it doesn't look like opportunism--exploiting a newly appointed leader.  My guess, though, is that Beijing has had this particular maneuver in the wings for a while, and decided that now was a good time to spring it. 
With no major changes since last post, I'm not going to put my money on a clear or likely winner.  But I'm starting to lean towards the Vatican.  Can Beijing really afford to come out of this tiff looking the bad guy?  They are already mean to the Dalai Lama.  And who can be mean to the Dalai Lama?  Do they really want the only other universally recognized religious figure able to claim slight at Beijing's doing?  And one other thing, if the nicknames, "God's Doberman," and "Panzer Cardinal," are any indication the current Pope may be less likely to look kindly on slights and insults than his counterpart in Tibetan Buddhism.

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