Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Gianni Valente, (once?) my friend, writes again on 30 Days (2010 No. 5) about the Church in China. I admire his interest for this Church so dear to us and his zeal in bringing it to the attention of his readers. I am sorry to say, however, that I cannot agree with the way he sees things in that very complex situation.
Appointment of Bishops
The title of the article says: “Beijing wants Bishops appointed by the Pope”. Such a title betrays an optimism not justified by facts. It is true that recent episcopal ordinations in China are recognized by both the Holy See and the Chinese Government. It is also true that two Chinese academics made affirmations which suggest a change of position on the part of the Government (those are affirmations made in China, which we should take them with a pinch of salt; by the way, academics are not part of the ruling establishment). Anyway, it is a far cry to conclude from these facts and these affirmations to a “Copernican Revolution”, as G. V. does.
Let us take up the question asked by G. V.: “How should we interpret the facts?”
First of all, I noticed a contradiction in what G. V. says. On p. 22, he talks about a new “conception” in the sense that the Chinese Government would have agreed to the Catholic doctrine about the ordination of bishops. Then, on p. 23, he says that the Government does not care about doctrines, but accepts the fact that the bishops should be approved by the Pope, because otherwise they would not be accepted by the faithful people. So it is a pragmatically motivated acceptance. The latter analysis seems to be the true one. The Government has to compromise, facing the resolute faith of the people, obviously encouraged by the Letter of the Pope to the Church in China and by other authoritative pronouncements of the Holy See (like the Communiqué at the conclusion of the last plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Church in China).
So, again, is it true that Beijing really wants bishops appointed by the Pope?
The quoted facts and pronouncements of the two academics do not seem to be
sufficient proof of that statement. However, relying on other sources (not available to us), G. V. tells us that there is a simple procedure for the nomination of bishops, which functions as follows:
a) There is a mechanism of local selection (by representatives of the parishes);
b) The names are then presented to the Government and approved;
c) The final choice is by consent between the two sides. Quoting Professor Liu Peng, G. V. says: “The list is submitted to the Holy See and the two sides make the choice jointly”. G. V. also says that “from political-diplomatic circles in China he came to know that a list of more than fifteen names of episcopal candidates has been sent to the Vatican and, it so happens that the names on the list almost correspond to those chosen independently by the Holy See” [Yes, it so happens that… What a surprise! We cannot resist asking: Is this a cry of joy on the part of G. V.? Or is he, unwittingly, making fun of himself?]
d) G. V. says that “the last binding word belongs to the Holy See”;
e) Towards the end of the article, G. V. even affirms that “the Chinese Government approves ordinations of bishops chosen on the basis of their approval by the Holy See”.
If this procedure reflected reality, we would have reason for rejoicing, because the authority of the Pope to nominate the bishops would be guaranteed, the Pope would have the first and the last word on the matter or at least the final choice would be made out of a cordial mutual understanding between the two sides.
But is it really so? From the pieces of information that we happen to gather here in Hong Kong, the reality is much less encouraging.
First of all, we have to note that points a) and b) above actually cannot really be distinguished, because the so-called “elections” are almost always manipulated by the Government through the Patriotic Association.
Then the whole process, as it takes place in reality, looks more like a tug-of-war than a “cordial mutual understanding”. The Government still puts so much pressure on the Holy See so that their candidates be approved (candidates they have nurtured for a long time!)
So, we do not even see a shadow of the so-called “Copernican Revolution”.
After having presented as fundamentally resolved the problem of the nomination of bishops, G. V. points to possible obstacles on the way to a smooth journey ahead. These obstacles are:
a) The problem of the underground bishops;
b) The problem of the bishops under arrest;
c) The solicitation (fortunately G. V. did not use the word “provocation”) from the Vatican when it invited the Chinese bishops to avoid taking part in the possibly coming Assembly of the Representatives of Chinese Catholics. G. V. is worried that a non-participation in that Assembly would put the Chinese bishops in great difficulty. He foresees that many of the poor bishops “will be exposed to the tirades of those who accuse them of capitulation in the face of interference by the civil authorities into the life of the Church”.
G. V. lists three reasons against the appropriateness of such a “solicitation”:
a) He cites one of the Chinese bishops recently interviewed by UCAN who says that “the Assembly has nothing to do with the spirit of the Church, since it is a meeting convened by the Government” (is there anybody who can explain to us the logic of such a statement?)
b) An eventual participation by many bishops in the Assembly would cause embarrassment to the Holy See (the implication is that it is unwise for the Holy See to risk its own prestige);
c) A large-scale absence would offer a pretext of new criticism from those people in the Chinese leadership who have always been opposed to dialogue with the Vatican (so, according to G. V., the Vatican is playing in favour of its adversaries).
It is not difficult to realize that the purpose of the whole article is precisely in this “tail”, where G. V. feels it is his duty to criticize the Holy See for its firm and resolute position against the said Assembly.
I would like to ask G. V. whether he is aware of the nature of this Assembly. It pretends to be an act of democratic self-government on the part of the Church in China, while in reality it is nothing but a confirmation of the will to carry on an independent Church, totally subject to the Government, with the bishops humiliated and denied their rightful authority. After the clear declarations of the Holy Father in his Letter to the Church in China on the apostolic nature of the Church, how can our bishops still subject themselves to such slavery? What is their conscience telling them?
Would the faithful accept from their bishops such an act of incoherence with their status of communion with the Holy Father?
G. V. maintains his optimism even in the face of a possible new impasse. He has confidence in the “tried capacity (of the Holy See?) to combine the clarity of statements of principles with flexible attention to the concrete situations”. G. V. seems to be saying to the Holy See: “Don’t treat too harshly the Chinese bishops, whatever their choice in respect to the said Assembly”. I am sorry to admit that Gianni Valente will probably not be disappointed in his hope. In fact, in not so far away past instances even the penalty of excommunication set down by Canon Law and recalled to mind by explicit authoritative statements, could nonchalantly be done away with.
May God save us from all evil.