The new platform shows only the names of official priests and churches registered with the government. For Pope Francis, the Church in China is one, but Beijing and the Patriotic Association want to keep the split between "official" and "underground" Churches. The next Sino-Vatican talks will focus on underground communities and the recognition of 12 unofficial bishops.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The new official website of the Catholic Church in China has no room for priests or meeting place that belong to the underground community. Some Catholics fear this represents an additional step towards the end of the underground community.
A few days after the signing of the agreement between China and the Holy See for the appointment of bishops, the official website of China’s Catholic Church (Zhongguo Tianzhujiao) updated its website, which is run by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and the Council of Chinese Bishops (two bodies not recognised by the Holy See).
In the new layout, there are two very important new entries: the priest and church database. The priest list is still under construction whilst the church list is constantly updated.
By consulting these pages, one can find the addresses of Catholic churches in China in every diocese, including the number of faithful per parish.
Some Catholics have noted that the two databases show all the official churches and priests registered with the government and the CPCA, but none of the underground bishops, priests and meeting places associated with unregistered communities that, despite being Catholic in all respects, "do not exist" for the site.
Fr Joseph, head of a community in Henan, told AsiaNews that "Pope Francis, in his message to Chinese Catholics, calls for acts of reconciliation and unity, for the Church in China is but one. But apparently for the Bishops' Council there are only the churches and bishops registered with the government and the Patriotic Association.”
Since Mao Zedong set up the CPCA in order to build an "independent" Church, China has had de facto two Catholic Churches.
After Mao’s death, thanks to the work of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and more recently Pope Francis, all the bishops have become reconciled with the Holy See.
After Pope Francis recently lifted the excommunication of seven bishops, the whole hierarchy is reconciled within the Catholic Church. However, divisions persist because of the government, especially the CPCA.
The CPCA in fact recognises the "normal" religious activities of registered and subjugated personnel and places, whilst deeming "illegal" and “criminal” the religious activities by unregistered priests and bishops, in places outside CPCA control.
With the Holy See and the Chinese government engaged in dialogue over the years, underground Catholics have often denounced pressures on them to join the CPCA, which theoretically is "a voluntary association".
Several "underground" bishops and priests are willing to be recognised by the government, but refuse to join the CPCA, which Pope Benedict XVI called "incompatible with Catholic doctrine".
Sources close to the Vatican involved in the dialogue have said that the next talks between China and the Holy See will focus on the situation of "underground" Catholics.
Vatican negotiators hope to convince Beijing to officially recognise at least 12 underground bishops during the meetings scheduled for December.