There is still so much optimism about dialogue between China and the Vatican, but the facts tell us that the government is taking possession of every space in the life of the Church: the ordination of bishops, control of seminaries, obligation to participate in celebrations with excommunicated or illegitimate bishops. Instead silence shrouds the fate of bishops in jail or under house arrest. The Vatican seems to want to leave the power to appoint bishops in the hands of the government. The return of Cardinal Casaroli’s Ostpolitik and the disappearance of the underground Church. An analysis by the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, combative defender of religious freedom in China and the Territory.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – I have not spoken about the Church in China on my blog for some time now. Certainly not because I am too busy to do so (busy as I may be, I will never lose interest of our Church in China), not because I fear criticism of my ideas (at my age I have nothing to gain or lose).
No, the problem is that I'd like to give some good news, but, as you will note, my fate is that of the prophet Jeremiah. I have searched at length for some good news, but have found none. I realise that during this season of Christmas and the New Year, my complaints are somewhat “extra chorum", but I cannot be a dog without a bark.
I remember that at the beginning of last year the newspaper Wen Wei Po announced jubilantly that "relations between China and the Vatican will soon have a good development." Soon after, the Vatican Secretary of State said that "the prospects are promising, there is a desire for dialogue on both sides." I had my doubts about this unexpected wave of optimism, I saw no basis for this optimism. More than a thousand crosses were removed from the top of the churches (in some cases the churches themselves have been destroyed). After so long, we can no longer delude ourselves that this was anything beyond an episode of some local official’s exaggerated zeal. Several seminaries have been closed. Students of the National Seminary in Beijing were forced to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Independent Church, promising also to concelebrate with illegitimate bishops (otherwise they would not receive a diploma at the end of their studies). The Government is continuously strengthening a church that now objectively is already separated from the universal Catholic Church; with enticements and threats they induce the clergy to perform acts contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Church, denying their conscience and their dignity.
In the latter half of 2015, there were some promising events which however failed to live up to expectations. Bishop Wu Qin-jing of Zhouzhi, ten years after his episcopal ordination, was finally installed as bishop, but has yet to pay the price of a compromise (see my blog of 14 July 2015).
Shortly after, Bishop Zhang Yinlin of Anyang was ordained. Even some usually cautious Catholic media rejoiced saying that everything had gone well. They pointed out that this ordination is the first after the last three years of contacts between Rome and Beijing, and also the first in Pope Francis’ pontificate, presenting the event as a good start.
It is this last statement that scares me, because the process included a "democratic election", the reading of a "decree of appointment by the (so-called) Episcopal Conference of China" and the canonically un-clear position of a co-consecrating bishop . A similarly abnormal process took place three years ago, does it deserve our rejoicing? (See my blog of 7 September 2015).
In October comes the big news: A Vatican delegation was in Beijing, there was a meeting. The Holy See gave no news of it. Father Heyndrickx Jeroom broke the news (of course he knows everything). He says: "They did not discuss sensitive issues like Bishop Su Zhimin of Baoding still in detention, or such as Bishop Ma Daqin of Shanghai to house arrest for more than three years (but these problems should not be resolved before any negotiations? Otherwise Obviously there is no goodwill on the part of Beijing). They focused on the issue of appointing bishops (of which model? Like with Anyang?). After the meeting, the delegation paid a visit to Bishop Li Shan of Beijing and the National Seminary where they met with Ma Ying Lin (Father Heyndrickx said that these are signs of goodwill on the part of Beijing, I think instead that they were acts of homage imposed by Beijing)".
Later the Vatican Secretary of State also confirmed that there was a meeting and that it was "very positive" and this "would be part of a process that will hopefully end with an agreement." Pressed by some journalists as to whether there was real progress, Cardinal Parolin responded: "The fact that we speak is already positive." It seems that there is no agreement in sight as of yet.
So what is the formula now under discussion for the appointment of bishops? As an old Cardinal out on the peripheries, I have no way of knowing, let alone guessing.
A recent article "A winter of darkness for religions in China" by Bernardo Cervellera on AsiaNews, says: "From information that has arrived from China it would seem that Beijing’s proposal is...: Vatican approval of the government recognized Council of Bishops,... [and] approval of the competency of this Council (and not the Pope) in the appointment of new candidates to the episcopacy who will be "democratically" elected (in short according to the suggestions of the Patriotic Association). The Holy See must approve the Council’s appointment and has a weak veto only in "severe" cases, which must be justified if used. If the Holy See’s justifications are considered "insufficient", the Council of Bishops may decide to proceed anyway".
If this information is accurate, can the Holy See accept the claims of the Chinese counterpart? Does this approach still respect the true authority of the Pope to appoint bishops? Can the Pope sign such an agreement? (Pope Benedict said: "The authority of the Pope to appoint bishops is given to the church by its founder Jesus Christ, it is not the property of the Pope, neither can the Pope give it to others").
Do our officials in Rome know what an election is in China? Do they know that the so-called Episcopal Conference is not only illegitimate, but simply does not exist? What exists is an organism that is called "One Association and One Conference", namely the Patriotic Association and the Bishops' Conference always work together as one body, which is always chaired by government officials (there are pictures to prove it, the Government does not even try more to keep up appearances, it starkly flaunts the fact that they now manage religion!). Signing such an agreement means delivering the authority to appoint bishops into the hands of an atheist government.
This scheme is often compared to a (poorly defined) Vietnamese Model, but it is much worse. The Vietnamese model is based on an initiative that began with the Church in Vietnam, the true Catholic Church in Vietnam. In China on the other hand, the so-called Association and Conference hide the reality that it is the Government calling the shots.
Even in Eastern Europe of the past, such as in Poland and Czechoslovakia, it was the Church that took the initiative and then gave the Government veto power. In doing so, even if the government vetos a proposal for the hundredth time, it is still the Church that presents a candidate and makes the appointment. If the Government insists on a veto, it will only prolong the impasse, and it will still allow the Church time to look for a suitable candidate. But it is unthinkable to leave the initial proposal in the hands of an atheist Government who cannot possibly judge the suitability of a candidate to be a bishop. Obviously, if the Church gives in to pressure from the government, the only result – despite proclamations to the contrary – is that it will have sold out the pontifical right to appoint bishops. Can this happen? According to an article written by a certain András Fejerdy: "For pastoral reasons - that is, because the full administration of the sacraments requires completely consecrated bishops - the Holy See believed that the completion of the Hungarian Bishops' Conference was so urgent that it accepted a solution that formally did not upset the canonical principle of free appointment, but that in practice gave the regime a decisive influence in choosing the candidates”.
UCAN News reports recent news from Chengdu (Sichuan): "Shortly after the visit of the Vatican delegation to Beijing, the Holy See approved the episcopal candidate elected in May 2014". Is this not exactly a case of "not upsetting the canonical principle of free appointment, but …in practice giving the regime a decisive influence in choosing the candidates "?
It is said that dialogue focused on the issue of the appointment of bishops, but there are many other pending problems, when and how will they be resolved?
The aforementioned AsiaNews article stated, again based on information received from China: "Beijing (demands) the Holy See’s recognition of all the official bishops, even the illegitimate and excommunicated ones." I wonder: is it only the government that makes these demands, without repentance of those concerned? Will the excommunicated only be released from excommunication or even recognized as bishops? Even without any act of repentance? Has the mercy of God come to this? Will the faithful be forced to obey these bishops?
So much remains to be resolved.
Illegitimate, even excommunicated bishops have abused the sacramental power (including ordination of deacons and priests) and judicial (assigning offices) and the Holy See seems to be without rebuke for them.
Legitimate bishops who participated in illegitimate episcopal ordinations, one, two, even three, four times, without ever having asked for forgiveness, or having received forgiveness from the Holy Father. Also those who took part in the so-called Assembly of Representatives of Chinese Catholics (the clearest symbol of a schismatic church).
Shortly after the Vatican delegation left Beijing, the government organized a large gathering of Church leaders, forcing on that occasion a celebration of all the bishops, legitimate, illegitimate and excommunicated. These are all objectively schismatic acts. The government now can string along a large number of bishops, resulting in an irrecoverable loss of dignity. If the Holy See signed some agreement with the Government without clarifying all these things, it will cause a severe wound to the conscience of the faithful.
Obviously our underground communities are non-existent for the Government. But now is even the Vatican ignoring them in negotiations, to appease their Chinese counterparts? To "save the day" will we abandon our brothers and sisters? But they are the healthy limbs of the Church! (Of course, they too have their problems, especially when dioceses remain without bishops, which can only lead to disorder). Is silencing the underground community to please the government not a form of suicide?
In the recent negotiations there has been no mention of the case of Msgr. James Su Zhimin in prison for 20 years, nor of Msgr. Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai under house arrest for more than three years, because these issues have been deemed "too sensitive" !?
In early September, some of the Shanghai faithful who were in prison for a long time, along with their relatives, went on a pilgrimage to Rome to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the great persecution on September 8, 1955. They were told: "Do not make any noise, the past is past, we have to look forward"!?
On a diplomatic level, the underground communities are the ace in the Holy See’s deck; if we amputate these limbs, what have we left in diplomatic standings to induce the other party to agree to our terms? By now, the government controls nearly all the official communities, while the underground communities are kept at bay by the Holy See. What do they still need to come to terms? They only need the signature of the Holy Father, a blessing, for this "Chinese Church." Beijing has no intention of negotiating, only making demands. After such a signature they will force the faithful of the underground community to come out and surrender to those who were illegitimate bishops for a long time, maybe even excommunicated, but now, with a clean slate, without even showing any repentance, leaning only on the Government for their legitimacy, have become bishops in their own right.
What makes me restless is the sight of our Eminent Secretary of State still intoxicated by the miracles of Ostpolitik. In a speech last year, at a Memorial for Card. Casaroli, he praised the success of its predecessor in having secured the existence of the Church hierarchy in the communist countries of Eastern Europe. He says: "In choosing candidates for the episcopate, we choose shepherds and not people who systematically oppose the regime, people who behave like gladiators, people who love to grandstand on the political stage." I wonder: Who had he in mind while making this description? I fear that he was thinking of a Cardinal Wyszynski, a Cardinal Mindszenty, a Cardinal Beran. But these are the heroes who bravely defended the faith of their people! It terrifies me to realize this mindset and I sincerely hope that I am wrong.
On the day that an agreement is signed with China there will be peace and joy, but do not expect me to participate in the celebrations of the beginning of this new Church. I disappear, I will start a monastic life to pray and do penance. I will ask the forgiveness of Pope Benedict for not being able to do what he was hoping that I could do. I will ask Pope Francis to forgive this old Cardinal from the peripheries for disturbing him with so many inappropriate letters.
The innocent children were killed, the angel told Joseph to take Mary and the Child and flee to safety. But today would our diplomats advise Joseph to go and humbly beg for dialogue with Herod !?
Please let it not be said that I believe the only line of distinction is that of “official and underground”. The vast majority of the clergy and lay people who belong to the official community are faithful to the authority of the Holy Father. Many are suffering enormously because of the abnormal situation of their Church, they are saddened by the weakness or lack of rectitude of their pastors, sometimes they even try to prevent them from falling further. In many cases a united clergy and a faithful people can defend their pastor from further bullying from the Authorities.