Does the Pope piss in the woods? I do not know, but, he is currently pissed at the Chinese government (okay, that was horrible). Several ordained bishops of the official Chinese Catholic Church (the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association or CCPA) were more or less kidnapped and forced to witness the ordination of a man chosen by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without consultation from Rome.
The Chinese side of this story just sounds like Chinese politics per usual: the Revered Guo Jincai had the guanxi (influence) to rise in station, so the CCP made sure that he did so regardless of moral credentials or Vatican approval.
I'm surprised that the Economist--given its home country--was not reminded of a historical parallel.
As in: five hundred years ago, King Henry VIII decided he wouldn't accept a church controlled by a political entity in Rome, so he created his own church--under English state control. True, this occurred within the context of a more general religious schism (the Reformation); regardless, parallels abound.
Today, the Chinese state has created the CCPA for similar reasons: an understandable paranoia about foreign political entities maintaining influential operations within one's borders as well as rivalry with the moral authority of religion in general. Also, there exists (as did in Henry's England) a Catholic church in secret, recognizing the papal authority and meeting privately within members' homes.
Perhaps Rome should just disavow itself entirely of the state-owned Chinese catholic church? Is there really any benefit to be gained from the continued semi-association and semi-legitimization of the CCP's puppet organization? Reconciliation with the state-owned church recognizes that the Chinese government is not as fanatically anti-religion as it once was, but the apparent ascendancy of hardliners within China's government suggests that there will be few if any religious freedoms won through such diplomacy.
The problem, of course, is that the Roman Catholic Church is acquisitive and not particularly content with the knowledge that other forms of Christianity win converts for the base religion. I doubt it wishes to accept--as it didn't with the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches--a schism which creates yet another church more-or-less catholic in tradition but which has no actual ties (moral adjudication or otherwise) with the Roman Catholic brand.
And now the Orwellian twist! The Catholic church decried this latest action by the Chinese government as a violation of Catholic religious freedom. The Chinese government then turned around and claimed the Vatican's criticism as a violation of its (the atheistic state's, apparently) religious freedom. Aside from the question of whether a protest or criticism (verbal) can be a violation of freedom, I began to wonder whether the Chinese government would actually have any basis for argument along those grounds if the Vatican fulfilled its threats of excommunications or came up with any other actions against the CCPA. For that matter, if the threat of excommunication is viewed as an action, rather than a verbal threat, does that mean that the Chinese Communist Party is recognizing the Vatican's spiritual authority to enact such a threat upon the Chinese government's church-like organ? Does this mean that an atheistic government (albeit one that claims the ability to assign reincarnations to politically-acceptable candidates) recognizes a spiritual threat as an actual threat? The CCP does leave itself open for so many hilarious zi xiang mao dun (self contradictions).
I give you this question: Could it ever be considered a violation of religious freedom to oppose a government's strictures on (or control of) religious activity?
The self-contradiction seems less so if one considers a state-backed church (like the modern Anglican Church) as a fully separate religious entity which citizens are fully free to join or not to join, to respect or disrespect as a religious authority. That would be to say that the Chinese government has the right to do whatever the hell it wants with its church-like organ, and the Chinese people have the right to view that organ with whatever disdain it earns.
Finally, perhaps we should view this matter as the theft of a brand: if the CCPA claims the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but views the Vatican's punishments as a violation of the CCPA's religious freedom, then perhaps the Chinese state is guilty of having stolen a brand (the Vatican's) which does not belong to it. This CCPA does seem similar to a shanzhai (pirated, knock-off) product--such as the Blockberry--trading on the good reputation of the product it imitates--such as the Blackberry.
My advice, Pope, is this: Perhaps the time has come for the Vatican to join the WTO and accuse China of moral and/or intellectual property theft.