Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – It is not true that the letter Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Chinese Catholics says that bishops from the underground Church can concelebrate services with “all” bishops from the official Church. It is not correct to claim that the letter says that there are no more reasons for the existence of the underground Church or that “underground” bishops are urged to seek recognition of state authorities. It is not true that there are no more canonical sanctions against unlawfully ordained bishops. This in a nutshell is the reply Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop of Hong Kong, delivered to a July 6 article by Fr Jeroom Heyndrickx, head of the Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation at Leuven’s Catholic University (Belgium), that appeared in the UCA News agency (the cardinal’s reply was published on July 18 and Father Heyndrickx’s counter-reply on the 20).
Cardinal Zen does acknowledge that the Belgian sinologist loves China and “has done a lot of work” to bring together “the Chinese Catholic community with the universal Church.” However, he is concerned that the latter’s “every initiative needs the approval of Mr. Liu (Banian) of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), and has to be carried out according to conditions imposed by him.” This is the same Mr Liu who is the CCPA deputy chairman and whose “enormous power . . . has allowed him to oppress and humiliate our bishops.
If this were the case the Leuven scholar would lose his dignity, which is no something Father Heyndrickx has accepted. Instead he has reiterated his obedience to the Church and the Pope, not to Chinese leaders. He has only engaged the latter in a dialogue.
At the centre of the controversy is Father Heyndrickx’s interpretation of the Pope’s letter. According to him the letter encourages members of the underground Church to come out into the open, ask for recognition by the civil authorities and concelebrate services with “all” the officials of the official Church.
Cardinal Zen states that none of that is in the letter—there is especially nothing to suggest that bishops from the underground Church can concelebrate with “all” the bishops from the official Church. What the letter does say is that they can concelebrate only with those who are now in communion with the Holy Father. In this sense, the unity of the Eucharistic celebration is obviously important, but without a hierarchical communion it is only a lie.
Similarly, underground bishops are not encouraged to apply for registration; they are only given the faculty or, rather, the heavy responsibility to make a "very difficult decision" for their individual dioceses as to whether they should seek recognition.
For this reason, the underground Church still has its raison d’être since the Chinese government continues to oppress the Church.
As for “canonical sanctions” the letter does focus on unity and dialogue, but it also explicitly mentions the “code of Canon Law (cf. c. 1382)” which “lays down grave sanctions both for the bishop who freely confers Episcopal ordination without an apostolic mandate and for the one who receives it”.