For some, the Declaration is a "watershed" that marks the end of the Vatican’s silence on Chinese matters and religious freedom. Among the "positive signals" expected from the Chinese government, there is first of all "freedom of conscience" and respect for the free choice of bishops, priests and nuns. Some call for a "boycott" of the Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives.
Rome (AsiaNews) – "It is not too late," says Fr Paul, a priest from south China, in relation to the statement issued by the Vatican Press Office two days ago about the presence of unlawful and excommunicated bishops at two episcopal ordinations (in Chengdu and Xichang) and the upcoming Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives (26-30 December).
This is in fact the first time in years that the Holy See proposes some doctrinal truths and guidelines for Chinese bishops, already laid out by Benedict XVI in his 2007 Letter and now de facto re-proposed by Pope Francis.
In recent years many Catholics felt that the Vatican’s desire for dialogue with the People's Republic made it too flexible doctrinally vis-à-vis unlawful bishops, episcopal appointments, and violations of religious freedom. The statement makes many Catholics "happy" because it " clarifies the current chaotic situations”.
AsiaNews has asked three priests in the official Church to comment the Holy See’s statement. All hope that thanks to the Declaration, the bishops will have the courage to boycott the future Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives (as "incompatible with Catholic doctrine"), and that the Chinese government will send "positive signals", above all by not limiting the religious freedom of believers and their bishops. Here are the three comments (BC).
1) Father Paul from Southern China
I have just read the Holy See’s Statement on the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives and the Chengdu and Xichang’s episcopal ordinations. Although such a statement came a bit late, it is not too late!
The Statement is late because the fact that an illegitimate bishop twice participated in a forcibly way in the episcopal ordinations happened, one in Chengdu and the other in Xichang. Prior to the two episcopal ordinations, the Holy See did not sound out any signal demanding a postponement or cancellation of the two episcopal ordinations in case any illegitimate bishop(s) might be present.
After the episcopal ordinations, no statement or position was issued in a timely manner. Of course, this Statement of the Holy See did not help to change the decision of the Chinese authorities, who always act according to its own established procedures. It can be seen that this forced participation of an illegitimate bishop in the episcopal ordinations was a contempt to the Pope and the Vatican.
However, this Statement is extremely important to those Catholics in China who are loyal to the Church and loyal to the Pope.
When I said the Statement is still not too late because the Ninth Assembly of the Chinese Catholic Representatives has not been convened. The Statement, issued at this moment, is clearly in time. By then, we can see the attitudes of the bishops to the Statement, who are actively participating in the Assembly, who ignore the Holy See’s Statement and actively participating in the meeting, who treat the Statement seriously, and who have tried to boycott that Assembly.
It is hoped that the Statement of the Holy See can ease the pains of the Catholics’ hearts and souls; and that the Statement marks a good start of the Holy See to stand on its principles. At the same time, it clarifies the current chaotic situations. Will the Statement of the Holy See and the Ninth Assembly of the Chinese authorities be a watershed of the situations?
2) Father Peter from North China
The Holy See’s Statement on the Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives and the participation of an illegitimate bishop in the two episcopal ordinations in Sichuan province has made the loyal Catholics in China very happy. The Statement reaffirmed the Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives is “incompatible with the Catholic doctrine” according to the Church’s principles and position. This Statement has enabled the Catholics in China to trust the Letter of Pope Benedict XVI is not outdated. Pope Francis has confirmed this intention. This helps the Chinese clergy and laypeople to see and witness clearly the direction of the faith and affirm the will of faith. – by Father Peter, Dec. 21, 2016
3) Father Thomas from Central China
Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke has issued a Statement on the episcopal ordinations of Chengdu and Xichang and on the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives. It first came through AsiaNews, whose report seemed to be loaded with excessive interpretations, and caught much attention from mainland China.
It is noteworthy that until now the Church has not provided an official Chinese version of the Statement.
According to Father Paul’s translation of the Statement (even though his interpretation of the Statement, as shown in his latest article, has embodied a style of extreme narcissism, it is fair to say that his translation is a just and balanced one.) The wording of the Statement sounds soft, clear and forceful, but retains the customary style of the Holy See.
On Chengdu and Xichang episcopal ordinations, the Statement used “unease” and “shares their sorrow”. This showed that the participation of an illegitimate bishop was inevitably posing uneasiness to Catholics, who were saddened by the events. This is because the “freedom of worship” has not been realized in China, and the right to religion has not been fully respected. The Statement indicated that Pope Francis, walking with Catholics, understands it very well, and he feels the sorrow of the Catholics and agonizes with the bitter ones. When his flock is in pain, the Shepherd will place the sheep on his shoulders.
About the upcoming Ninth Assembly, the Statement states it has hope for the “future”, but it has not taken place yet and there can still be variables. Therefore, the Pope will have to make judgement on it, and has to wait for its "established facts" to come.
While waiting, Pope Francis is "convinced” that the Holy Spirit is with the Church, including the Church in China, which is preparing for the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, a structure of conference which is ever incompatible with the Catholic faith. Pope Francis said he is “uncomfortable with the Chinese Catholics” who are waiting for “positive signals”. From the Statement, it helps them “place their trust in the dialogue between the civil authorities (and the Holy See has promised sincerity)” can be affirmed. From here, the “positive signals” will require the Holy See, which is in dialogue with the Chinese government, to be released by the Chinese Government. For example, to respect individuals’ consciences, like respecting Chinese Catholics, bishops, priests and nuns can make a free choice, rather than have a lot of reluctances, overworks or escapes.
The last sentence of the Statement reaffirms the attitude of the whole Catholic Church: the Church encourages unity, refuses divisions; Catholics (the Church) in the Chinese community hope and will become an active builder of a “harmonious society”. This can only be realized under a premise of the Chinese government’s respect of the “freedom of conscience”.