Beijing (AsiaNews) - In the eyes of Beijing’s Catholics, the capital’s bishop is now the pawn of the Party and the Patriotic Association (PA). In recent weeks, the bishop publicly defended the PA policies of "raising the flag of love of country and love of church” and "perseverance in the principal of independence, autonomy and self government of the Church." While the first aspect is very close to what Benedict XVI has always insisted on (good Catholics are also good citizens), the second enhances the PA’s long held principle of the Chinese Churches separation from the Holy See, which in the past prompted the Pope to declare the PA’s ideals incompatible with Catholic teaching (see Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics n.7 and note 36).
Msgr. Joseph Li Shan, 44, was consecrated archbishop of Beijing on the 21st of September 2007, with Holy See approval, but for several months now, he has come more and more under the thumb of the PA, the body that ensures the Churches submission to the Party.
According to several believers in Beijing, the bishop seems to have delegated his pastoral mission to the head of the PA, a layman called Anthony Liu Bainian. To mark the end of the Pauline Year and the beginning of the Year for Priests, Msgr. Li Shan limited himself to greeting priests named Peter or Paul, and inviting his clergy to lunch.
Liu Bainian, however, took the opportunity to deliver a lengthy speech to clergy and religious calling on them to "imitate the Apostle Paul, promote theological studies, and build an inculturated Church that is Chinese in character." In his erudite discourse – carried in full on the Beijing Diocesan website (http://www.tianguangbao.org/09.7.1/1.htm) - he stresses that the Church in China is a living example of Pauline spirit and thought, which he summed up in 4 points: a) a spirit of adaptation, b) overcoming the tension between religion and politics, obeying the ruling regime; c) a spirit of solidarity; d) living the call to evangelization.
"Like Saint Paul," he condemned "divisions" and especially the divisions between the official and underground Church which, according to him, is created exclusively by some "anti-Chinese Western power, which hurts evangelization." Usually in Party documents, the Vatican is referred to as a “western (or foreign) power” that tries, for (" false ") religious reasons, to meddle with life in China.
Liu Bainian gave his speech during a seminar on Pauline theology organized by Yi Hui Yi Tuan (comprising the PA and the Episcopal Council of China). The Patriotic Bishop Ma Yingling, declared illegitimate by the Holy See, was also present. Msgr. Ma gave a presentation on the meaning of the seminary, urging brother priests to live the Year for Priests in the Pauline spirit and to help contribute to the sacred mission of the Catholic Church in China.
Mgr Li Shan, who was also present, did not open his mouth.
The PA only invites him to speak in defence of the Chinese Churches independence from the Vatican.
From June 10-12 the Ninth Meeting of Representatives of the Catholic Church in Beijing was held in the capital attended by 230 priests, nuns, seminarians and lay people. Msgr. Li Shan was entrusted with an intervention entitled "Raising the flag of love of country and love of church, promoting the evangelization of the Catholic Church in Beijing."
In his discourse - divided into three chapters – he traced the history of the Church in Beijing, the experience of the past 5 years, and its future mission. In the first part stressed the importance of "strengthening the PA", the "democratic management of the Church”, the “Church at the service of the capital, the general perspective of society”. And among the most important ideals to be emphasised were "perseverance in the principles of independence, autonomy, and self-governance of the Church; service to society; the democratic administration of the Church."
Thanks to his being submissive, the bishop was elected president of Liang Hui, the union of two groups: the Patriotic Association in Beijing and the Council of Catholic affairs of the Beijing municipality.
In recent years almost all the official bishops had been reconciled with the Holy See. Benedict XVI’s Letter of to Chinese Catholics (27 May 2007) had strengthened this relationship by propelling many bishops recognized by the government to cooperate with underground bishops.
But precisely because of the Pope's Letter and the newfound unity among the bishops of China, the United Front and the Patriotic Association have, over the past several months, launched a series of initiatives to bring official bishops to obedience. A constant stream of convocations by the United Front and PA, force the prelates to participate in conferences, meetings, study groups, policy sessions, so as to undermine their pastoral work. Under no circumstances are the bishops given the opportunity to meet one another alone, and they pass from a life of complete isolation –at the mercy of PA secretaries – to group meetings under the strict control and brain washing of the United Front and the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
According to card. Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, the Chinese regime is methodically persecuting the official Church. At the same time, all underground bishops - not recognized by the government - are under house arrest or have disappeared in police custody.