Beijing (AsiaNews) - Since the beginning of the 1980s, the China-Vatican relation has been a subject of international media scrutiny. Any incident related to this issue will always draw media attention and their analyses of the situation. Viewing from recent years, since 2008, China has ordained the largest number of illicit bishops (ordinations without papal mandate) and convened the Eighth Assembly of Catholic Representatives. This caused the China-Vatican relation to have fallen to the lowest point in the last decades. According to media reports and analyses, both China and the Holy See seemingly have softened their stances since the middle of last year. Today, the contacts between China and the Holy See are quite frequent, and their relations are even rumoured to have the chance of establishing diplomatic ties. Anyway, no matter what result these contacts will lead to, the dialogue between two sides is always laudable and appreciative. In fact, only through sincere contacts and constructive dialogue, can the situation be of a win-win one. Regarding the crucial point of such relationship and its perspectives in the near future, I would like to raise a few points for discussion and reflection.
First, in the process of dialogue and contacts, including efforts to have diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See, both sides have obviously come with different purposes. The Chinese government is considering the pros and cons of establishing diplomatic relations with the Holy See, like an inevitable influence of Catholicism to the Marxist ideologies. Also, this might create positive influences internationally, especially as China is getting more important in world politics. As for the Holy See, the principal focus is that the Catholic community can practice the right of religious freedom in this land of China.
From the early 1980s, the attitudes of the past three Popes on the Question of China has always been clear and consistent. The Catholics in China, like Christian faithful in other parts of the world, can and should enjoy the right to religious freedom in the People's Republic of China. This means each Catholic in China should have human dignity and personhood, and enjoy the right to religious freedom, as stated in the "Universal Declarations of Human Rights" recognized by the United Nations. The Holy See has, on many occasions, urged the Chinese government to take concrete actions and to guarantee this fundamental right for all citizens of the People's Republic of China. However, regrettably, we do not see this particular action, and there is no way to get legal protection through China's current legislative, administrative and judicial means. Therefore, we believe that, the right to religious freedom should be the main demand in the dialogues and contacts between China and the Holy See. Looking at the current situation of China's society and from a political point of view, it is not easy to say that the Chinese government will protect the right to religious freedom of all the citizens of the People's Republic of China. Under the present social and political situation in China, it seems that we cannot see any positive signals that can safeguard the Chinese citizens to have the right of religious freedom. Please consider the following points:
First, an issue of commonplace or the principles of "independence and self-managing Church and a democratically-managed Church" was laid down by the Chinese government regarding the question of the Catholic Church in China. These principles were clearly confirmed as "incompatible with Catholic doctrine", cited in the "Letter to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in China" in 2007 by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. However, over these years, we had observed the attitude of the Chinese government toward the Catholic Church in China was considered as a main control by the Communist Party. Today, we have not seen any benefits and opportunities for the Chinese government to abandon the principles.
Second, the issue of bishop appointment was always a major sticking point that affects the China-Vatican relations. How should we resolve this issue? It is one of the difficult issues in the dialogue of the both sides. What we see is that in this respect the Chinese government has had a considerable right to speak because in the past 15 years; whereas the Holy See has recognized a considerable number of bishops whom the Chinese government favoured, mostly in their 50s. In future, for at least 20 years, the difficulties brought along by this issue in the life of the Church in China cannot be underestimated.
Third, to say the least, even if these two difficult problems can be solved in the dialogue and contacts between China and the Holy See, this does not necessarily mean the Catholic community in China can enjoy the right to religious freedom. Since the fundamental right of religious freedom does not depend solely on these two issues (of course, we should not underestimate the importance of these two issues in the Church life), the realization of the right to religious freedom in China depends on the true realization of full human rights in that country, which is not optimistic in the current political and social situations of China. Because:
1 As to the political situation in China, conflicts and struggles within the Communist Party are very intense now; we cannot clearly know which faction is interested in dialogue with the Vatican. We are wondering if those opposed to talk with the Vatican may use this chance to censure and block those who favour dialogue with the Vatican. At least, this very troubled political situation in China is not the best time to dialogue with China on the part of the Holy See.
2 For the Chinese government, the Catholic issue in China is not an isolated question, but it is to be linked with problems of other religions and ethnicity. It is impossible for the Chinese government to solve the Catholic question regardless of other issues, such as Tibet, Xinjiang and autonomous management of ethnic groups. If the Chinese government has not come up with a plan of comprehensive ethnic and religious issues to resolve these problems, it is difficult to separate the issue of what the Catholic Church on the nature of the agreement with the Vatican to protect the religious freedom of the Catholic Church .
3 For the Catholic Church, even if the Chinese government is sincere enough to solve the problem of "independence and self-managing Church and the democratically managed Church" as well as the Holy See's appointment of bishops. This does not necessarily mean you can really guarantee the Catholic community to enjoy religious freedom in China. If the Chinese government has not really implemented the right to freedom, democracy, and other human rights, then the resolution of the mentioned two issues cannot bring along true religious freedom to the Catholic community in China. For instance, if there is no right to the freedom of the press, then the Catholic Church will continue to be limited in the free dissemination of information in China; if the Chinese government does not respect the right of parents to choose educational opportunities for their children, then the Catholic faith education will continue to be limited; if China's land problem remains the property of the state, the Catholic Church in China cannot have its real estate or assets. There are many problems and social issues to be solved, but they are related to the exercise of the right of religious freedom of Catholic faithful in China. and these problems and issues cannot be resolved in the near future. Before solving all these problems, the agreements signed by both parties will only be a dead letter, and does not have any actual content.
Fourth, viewing all the factors above, we can see that the guarantee and respect the right of religious freedom in China is still much to do, and it takes a long time. And the resolution of these problems depends on whether the Chinese Christians can become a social conscience. The seeds of the Gospel can be sown on this land. Here, at this moment, they can become a prophet of the era, as light and salt in the society in China. Therefore:
1 For the Catholics in China, as cited in emeritus Pope Benedict XVI's "Letter to the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in China", the fundamental task is formation for the present and the future, for a considerable period of time. Since only the formation work allows every bishop, priest, consecrated person and lay faithful to be prophets of this time, and be the yeast to the society, and spread the seeds of the Gospel in this land of China.
2. From the perspective of the Holy See, its main function is neither diplomatic nor political, but to help the Holy Father to confirm the faith of the Christians in China. The ultimate aim of diplomacy and politics of the Holy See is nothing but help Christians in China live full ecclesial communion. The life of any local church should be open. On social issues, there must be a considerable degree of collaborations between church and local government. However, the prerequisite is that local governments must conscientiously respect the right to freedom of religion church groups, or at least should not have ideological and political forces forcibly intervene in the internal affairs of religion. In the dialogues between the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and the Chinese government, the Chinese government should endeavour to promote the right of religious freedom to the faithful and the Catholic communities; to strive through diplomatic means to enable the Chinese government to avoid ideological and political forces forcibly intervene in the Catholic Church. The Chinese government faces the need of the church to become a true Catholic Church in China, but in the communion of the universal Church's "independence and self-church", rather than government intervention in religious work in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church. Prior to establishing diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See, the pre-requisite is that one should ensure and guarantee ecclesial communion and religious freedom of the Catholic communities in China. In the event that this fundamental right of religious freedom of Chinese Catholics is not achieved, I think there is no hurry to have diplomatic relations. A Chinese saying says: "One who wants to get in a hurry will never reach». The time of the Church is God's time, she believes solely in the death and resurrection of Christ. The Church has time; she can wait 300 years.
Moreover, the Holy See does not have the reason to suspend the appointment of bishops for the Church in China to avoid angering the Chinese government in the processes of dialogue and contacts. Since the missions of the Church are always of faith, theological and pastoral, and not act with political and diplomatic reasons. While the latter are at the service of the former. The existence of the episcopate is essential to the life of a local church. The experiences of the Church life have continuously shown us that where there are bishops, there exists the Church. The episcopate is one of the fundamental expressions of the Church. If the community of a local church lacks a bishop, and the people of God there are in urgent need of a pastor, the Holy See should consider the suitability of candidates with potential and necessary means, and appoint a bishop decisively. Only doing so will confirm the faith of his brothers in China. In the case of having no one suitable to be a bishop, if the candidate is willing to accept this mission and bear the Cross that derived from this mission, the Holy See has no reason to delay or deny appointments for political and diplomatic reasons. Religious persecutions cannot be the cause of not appointing bishops.
The bishops appointed by the Holy See can testify their faith in persecutions. This can express more strongly the life of the Gospel the love of Christ for his Church. Moreover, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared the principles of "independence and democratically managed Church" incompatible with Catholic doctrine. Also, equally serious matters like the illegitimate episcopal ordinations without papal mandate are offenses under the canonical systems force of the Catholic Church. Some members of the Church in China still live those facts that strongly hurt the ecclesial communion in China. In times of appointing bishops for the local church in China, such candidates should not be considered as suitable, even though this does not criticize his personal qualities as suitable for the episcopate; but if the Church allows and appoints a priest with those pubic defects, is morally unacceptable, and not live by the truth, unless such priest publicly renounces the principles of "independence of the Holy See and democratic managed Church". And for the same reasons, the priests who resists the principles of "independence and democratically managed Church" if the Holy See considers qualified to be a bishop, and a local church needs such pastors, will have priority over other bishops.
Conversely, if the bishop appointed by the Holy See who is brave enough to be witness of the Gospel under political persecutions, he shows the inner strength of the Gospel and Christ's love for the Church. Also, due to the adherence to the principles of "independence and self-managed Church and democratically managed Church", the bishops ordained without papal mandate cannot work harmoniously within the church. Well, there are priests have done one of the two acts. Even though his personal virtues are highly respected and his ability to lead the people of God is very prominent, he should not be selected as a qualified candidate for bishop. Because this is an open mistake, if such people are appointed as bishops by the Holy See, morally speaking, it means recognition of these two mistakes to be correct. They are not living in the truth. Unless the candidate said publicly that he has abandoned those principles and behaviours. For the same reason, there are some who publicly expressed opposition to the principles of "independence and self-managing church and democratically managed Church", and without the papal mandate but to be ordained as bishop of the diocese. For such priests, if the local church needs, the Holy See should consider the person's qualities as a suitable bishop candidate. This should be even better than those who adhere to these two initiatives, more priority was appointed bishop.
*Peace is the pseudonym of an underground Chinese priest