Rome (AsiaNews) – While the Beijing government asks that a “harmonious society” be built, the Catholic Patriotic Association decides to declare war on China-Vatican relations.
AsiaNews sources in Beijing say that members of the government, Patriotic Association leaders, and members of the Chinese Communist Party are worriedly awaiting the letter, expected for Easter that the Pope has decided to write to Chinese Catholics.
According to rumours, the Pope will, for the first time, deal publicly with the question of the unity of the Church in China and relations with the government and with the Patriotic Association. By now, the latter is seen by all as the true obstacle to relations between China and the Vatican.
Religions and social harmony
The government too seems to be distancing itself from the Patriotic Association. Two days ago, on the occasion of New Year’s greetings, Jia Qinglin, a member of the Politburo and president of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, met with the leaders of the Patriotic Associations of the various religious recognized by China. He told them that “religions can play a positive role” in building a harmonious society, referring to the slogan launched by President Hu Jintao for shaping a more just society and more balanced development. According to the Xinhua news agency, Jia asked leaders of the Patriotic Association to promote religious ideas and actions that can help achieve social harmony. “It is very important,” he said, “to make full use of the ‘positive elements’ of religion.” At the same time, he underlined that the Patriotic Association must take steps towards meeting the needs of communities and their requests. “Social harmony,” he explained, “must be defended among the followers of religions and their petitions and demands must be heard.” Jia stressed that the concern for maintaining social harmony will be important throughout 2007, a year which has on its agenda the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th national congress.
Jia’s suggestion comes just days after the publication of an official study which shows that there are 300 million believers in China, three times the official figure. This means that at least 200 million Chinese are not accounted for within the official structures controlled by the Patriotic Associations. The reason is clear: no one accepts submitting to the control of the Patriotic Associations in matters of faith; plus, economic interests are often hiding under the mantle of ideological control: the seizure of goods belonging to religious communities for personal gain. To give just one example, in the Catholic Church, over 80% of the estate of Chinese dioceses has been confiscated by officials of the Patriotic Association, who sell and rent land and buildings, pocketing the income, instead of using it for the Church’s mission in poorer regions. This is something that can be multiplied by 5, that is, for all the religious communities recognized by the government: Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.
The Patriotic Associations have, by now, become useless instruments, given that a very large majority of believers refuse to adhere to them. They also create confusion and tension among the believers that are signed up with them. The most significant example is the illicit ordination of various bishops without Holy See approval.
These took place, above all, through the use of violence, deceit and lies against the candidates themselves. But, most of all, they distressed the faithful for the fear of seeing the growth of independent communities which refuse ties with the pope. The Vatican’s statement after the latest ordination, that of November 30, 2006, stressed this aspect. “This series of extremely grave acts, which offends the religious sentiments of each and every Catholic in China and the rest of the world, is the fruit and consequence of a vision of the Church that does not correspond with Catholic doctrine and subverts the fundamental principles of its hierarchical structure.”
The Vatican’s statement shows that what is being questioned is not, above all, the Chinese government’s role, but that of the Patriotic Association which went ahead with the ordinations in order to reaffirm its control over the official Church, which is, at this point, almost entirely reconciled with the Pope.
The Holy See’s statement at the end of the meeting at the Vatican on the situation of the Church in China (January 19-20, 2007) also expresses the desire for “respectful and constructive dialogue” with the government. At the same time, it recalls that “the almost all Bishops and priests are in communion with the Supreme Pontiff,” which goes against the divisive efforts of the Patriotic Association which has always wanted to create an independent Church.
It is not surprising therefore that, in recent weeks, the leaders of the Patriotic Association of Catholics have been frantically defending their doings.
The war of the “lay pope of China”
At the end of January, Wenhuibao, a Hong Kong newspaper close to the CCP, quoted an “authoritative figure” of the People’s China who defended the efforts of the Patriotic Association. According to this anonymous figure, the Patriotic Association “played a great role in the development of the Church in China, the results of which are evident. In the future of the Church in China, not only must the role of the Patriotic Association not be weakened, indeed it must be strengthened.”
And also: “There are those who say that the Patriotic Association names bishops without authorization. This can only mean that those who say so are not aware of the situation in China. The Patriotic Association is only an organ of the people. It is not a power structure… To guarantee the success of evangelization in China, the role of the Patriotic Association must not be weakened but actually strengthened. I hope that the Vatican goes in this direction.”
In the same article, layman Anthony Liu Bainian, Vice President of the Patriotic Association, nicknamed the “lay pope of China”, also rushes to the defence of his organization: “the Patriotic Association,” he says, “is a popular patriotic organization made up of bishops, priests and laypeople. It is a bridge for priests and Chinese laypeople in their relations with the government and is not an organ of purely religious affairs. Normally, it assists the work of the Church. It is not true that it controls the Church.”
Instead, the Vatican is worried that the Patriotic Association’s interference – as happened with the illicit ordinations – distorts the nature of the Church’s life. And the official bishops in China themselves have been asking for some time to be responsible for the Church vis-à-vis the government, to avoid that the Patriotic Association’s presence pollutes the sacramental and dogmatic element of the faith of Christians.
“Lately, not a day passes without Wenhuibao publishing articles and statements by Liu Bainian,” says a Catholic in Hong Kong. In fact, over past days, February 12, 13 and 14, “the lay pope of China” is continuing his war to affirm the value of the Patriotic Association and rails, even violently, against Cardinal Joseph Zen, champion of the freedom of the Church in China.