Rome (AsiaNews) – The ordination of a Chinese bishop against the will of the Pope with participants forced by police to participate is something from a bygone era, a kind of movie remake of the investiture controversy, which dominated two centuries of European history.
That it did not happen a thousand years ago in some lost village in a feudal countryside is worth remembering. In fact, it occurred last Saturday, in Chengde, in modern Hebei, a wealthy industrial region not far from Beijing, the capital of the world’s second most important economy, a member of the United Nations Security Council, a juggernaut that claims to be a world leader in all sorts of fields (including in religious freedom).
In a statement issued today (see Holy See condemns illicit Episcopal ordination in Chengde), the Vatican Press Office slammed the unlawful ordination of Guo Jincai (pictured) in Chengde as well as the forced participation in the ceremony of the ordaining bishops, thus gravely violating their “freedom of religion and conscience”. This is a “painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline.”
The statement is clear and without ambiguities but it is courageous as well, coming at a time when presidents, prime ministers, ministers and business leaders are falling over each other trying to please China, playing bard, flatterer and toad for gain and investments. It is a real miracle, a rare but not impossible one, worthy of praise, to see that someone, with a bit of a backbone, can tell the truth to the Chinese juggernaut, and demand respect for religious freedom.
For the first time, the Vatican statement mentions the name of Liu Bainian, aka the pope of Beijing, the 80-year-old lay man who has led the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) for the past 30 years. This is an amazing feat since even leaders like Jiang Zemin retired at 75, whereas Mr Liu appears to forever more glued to the helm of the CCPA.
He is behind a number of unlawful ordinations in 2000, 2006 and again last week, all of them coming at a time of possible dialogue between the Holy See and China, almost as if they were planned to scuttle any rapprochement.
He is always in the news, claiming that he is doing it for “the good of the Church”, when in fact many Catholics in Beijing and across China accuse him of using Church properties for himself and his family, building houses on land he does not own, paying for his children’s overseas education, as well as ensuring them a quick and well-heeled career.
In spite of the government’s campaign for greater morality in society and its fight against corruption, the CCPA leader has pulled through without a scratch. This raises serious questions as to whether leaders in Beijing really can or want to get to the bottom of things. It is as if Liu can hold Hu Jintao in check and run the Church the way it was under Mao Zedong.
Lastly, in its press release, the Vatican has raised serious doubts about the “validity” of the latest ordination. This is good news for those Catholics in Chengde and elsewhere in China who refused to accept the ordination. Now they will be happy to know that they do not have to take part in any of the activities performed by the patriotic bishop for he is not in communion with the Pope.
Like other bishops ordained without the approval of the Holy See, Guo Jincai’s destiny is one of isolation, surrounded by the few Christians he can buy with favours and the money Liu Bainian can provide him. The people, however, are on a different side.