Rome (AsiaNews) - The news that Mgr. Francis An Shuxin joined the Patriotic Association has given rise to astonishment, outrage, grief and prayers and also some clarifications, such as the one from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which says it did not put pressure on Bishop An.
Bishop An Shuxin (see photo), coadjutor bishop of Baoding (Hebei), a stronghold of the underground Church, after 10 years in prison and forced isolation in police custody, has decided to be recognized as the official bishop. For this, he had to agree to join the Patriotic Association, the body of the party that aims to build a Church independent of Rome. The Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics defines the PA and its ideal as "incompatible with Catholic doctrine" (cf. Asianews.it, 29/10/2009: In Hebei, underground bishop joins Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association).
Many priests in Baoding are offended by the choice of bishop. "For decades - they say - the underground Church has never compromised with the PA, even paying with their lives and the imprisonment, their adhesion to the pope."
Chinese Sisters near Baoding tell AsiaNews that they pray "even more" for the bishop. In their view, the choice of Msgr. An is due to the sense of abandonment that permeates the underground Church, which is considered an "obstacle" to possible relations between China and the Vatican.
An underground priest from Zhengding states that " there are underground diocese without a bishop for years and the Holy See is not bothered to find candidates. There are bishops who have been in jail for decades, but nobody seems to be doing anything for their release”.
Another notes that the "oversight" of the underground Church has gone hand in hand with some timid signs of dialogue between the Chinese government and the Vatican. But he emphasizes the "few results" achieved. "Over the past two years – he tells AsiaNews - the Vatican has not even been able to ordain an official bishop, even though there is a need".
Baoding sources say that Mgr. An chose to join the PA because it threatened to isolate him and appoint another bishop in his place, wreaking havoc in the underground community. His choice seems dictated by an attempt to save the community and a minimum of pastoral work, though under the control of the PA. In addition, two underground priests, fathers Pang Guangzhao and Jiang Yanli, have decided to join the PA perhaps for the same reasons and were immediately released from prison. Other priests remain in prison.
Several sources claim that the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples "put pressure" on Mgr. An to leave the underground Church. In this regard, a statement from the Congregation, also published by Fides, said: "In recent days news is circulating about the situation of the diocese of Baoding, Hebei, Mainland China, and particularly regarding the Bishop Coadjutor SE Mgr Francis An Shuxin. These reports speak of a letter to the Prelate of the Holy See about his celebration with an illegitimate bishop and attributes the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples with having authorized this celebration and pressing Mgr. An to emerge from the underground church and enrol in the Patriotic Association. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples categorically rejects these allegations as without any foundation". (BC)