Hong Kong (AsiaNews) "It is the old Jiang Zemin line stressing strict party control over the life of the Church, it is fears of foreign contacts, and it is praises of a type of autonomy that is really a form of ideological enslavement to the Communist Party." This is how Church sources in Hong Kong assessed for AsiaNews the work of the National Congress of Chinese Catholic Representatives (NCCCR), held in Beijing between July 7 and 9.
The meeting of Church leaders (bishops) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) was scheduled for 2003, but the SARS epidemic forced its postponement. The meeting brought together in a Beijing hotel 265 representatives from 31 provinces and autonomous regions. Of these only 40 were bishops, a small number compelled even on matters of faith to back the majority of representatives, often atheist, from provincial Patriotic Associations. A few dozens of priests and nuns were also present.
Whereas in 2003 China saw the so-called Fourth Generation (that of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao) take over , the "new" leadership of the CCPA and of the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), still belong to the "third generation," that of Jiang Zemin. For example, Michael Fu Tieshan, patriotic bishop of Beijing was re-elected chairman of the CCPA; Liu Yuanren, patriotic bishop of Nanking was re-elect chairman of the BCCCC; Antonio Liu Bainain, a layman, was re-elected deputy chairman of the CCPA.
During the 3-day meeting, Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs spoke to the gathering of Catholic representatives. A third-generation official, Ye stated that main goals of the Catholic Church in China were its independence and autonomy (from Rome), internal democratic decision-making, and the training of new leaders.
Last year, Ye was the main advocate for restructuring the Church along a more "democratic management" style, He successfully obtained the approval of three policy papers on Church administration. Thus every parish, convent, episcopy is to be run by a committee whose members, often atheist, appoint bishops and priests by majority votes, set the curriculum in seminaries and convents, and administer the economic affairs of dioceses and parishes. Naturally, such committees are ideologically closer to the Communist Party than to the Christian message.
Jia Qinglin, a powerful member of the Permanent Committee of the Politburo (and a friend of Jiang Zemin), restated the need for Party control over the Church. Meeting Catholic representatives on July 9 in the Great hall of the People, he laid emphasis on the principles of autonomy, independence, self-administration as the bases of Church life counting on "self-selection and self-ordination" as the permanent way to appoint bishops.
Reaffirming these "autonomous" methods for appointing bishops cannot disguise the fact that it is an admission of defeat. In fact, more and more bishops of the Official Church baulk at compromising with the authorities and accept ordination only if it has received the seal of approval of Rome.
According to Church sources in Hong Kong "this leadership still exerting its control in the Jiang Zemin style does not realise that the Church and Chinese society are going in an another direction. The meeting just concluded is but the last rattle of a dying Stalinism."
The decision was made at the meeting to exclude anyone above 80 years of age from holding office in the CCAP and the BCCCC. Many bishops were thus forced into retirement such as Aloysius Jin Luxian, bishop of Shanghai, Bernardine Dong Guangqing of Hankou, Yu Chengcai of Haimen, Anthony Tu Shihua of Hanyang, and Liu Jinghe of Tangshan.
How to finance local churches was one of the most important issues discussed at the meeting. For the first time financing methods were disclosed. They range from renting out church properties to receiving donations and government subsidies.