Beijing (AsiaNews) - With a sort of refrain that it has been using for decades, China yesterday remembered the preconditions for any dialogue with the Holy See: noninterference in the domestic affairs of the country, not even under the aspect of religion (including the appointment of bishops); breaking off of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Reiterating the two principles was Du Qinglin, head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. "The Vatican must not interfere in China's internal politics, including using religion to interfere in our country's domestic affairs," he said; the Vatican must break off its "so-called diplomatic relationship" with Taiwan and recognize the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government representing China; "only on the basis of these two fundamental principles can both sides have constructive dialogue, overcome difficulties, narrow differences and make real progress towards improving relations."
The occasion was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the autonomy of the Chinese church, in regard to the appointment and consecration of bishops. The practice of independent appointment and consecration, begun in 1958, was instituted by Mao Zedong in order to build a Church independent from Rome.
About 300 personalities, including 45 bishops, participated in the celebration held in the Grand Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square. Also at the meeting were Ye Xiaowen, director of State Administration of Religious Affairs, and Tian Congming, Tian Congming, head of minorities and religions. Also present was the patriotic bishop of Kunming, Ma Yinglin, ordained in 2006 without the approval of the Holy See (in the photo). Bishop Ma, who is secretary of the council of Chinese bishops, also spoke at the meeting. According to many observers, Ma Yinglin - who is in a situation of de facto excommunication (latae sententiae) - is being groomed by the government to become president of the Patriotic Association, the organ of state control over the Church, the aim of which is to build a Church independent of the Holy See.
Du emphasized the fact that over the past 50 years, bishops, priests, and lay faithful "have held high the banner of love of country and of the Church," and that the party "has not been disappointed" by their work.
Du also recalled that more than 170 bishops have been ordained in these years. Over the past few decades, many of them, although they were ordained according to the "autonomous" method, have secretly asked for the approval of the Holy See; others have not accepted ordination until permission was granted from Rome. In this way, out of about 60 bishops for the official church, more than 80% of them are in communion with the pope.
Over the past three years, there have been signs of dialogue and encounter between Vatican and Chinese figures, leading to hopes for a new era in relations. Du's hardline speech, and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of episcopal autonomy, threaten to extinguish any hope. In 2007, Benedict XVI published a letter addressed to the Chinese Church, in which he reiterates that the appointment of bishops is the responsibility of the Holy See, and has a religious rather than a political value.
According to some Vatican figures, Du Qinglin's speech is "full of old slogans and old preconditions," and demonstrates the party's lack of preparedness to face the question of religious freedom and the ordination of bishops. So far, there has been no official response from the Chinese government to the pope's letter.