About 100 Chinese Catholics, including 40 bishops, gathered in Beijing on 25 and 26 November. During the meeting, they decided to postpone the assembly, without fixing a date, Bishop Fang Xingyao of Linyi said. Wang Zuo’an, director of State Administration for Religious Affairs, attended the meeting.
The two-day meeting was organised by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), a body that includes bishops from the official Church that is not recognised by the Holy See. Some bishops told AsiaNews that the proposal to postpone the assembly was adopted unanimously.
The National Assembly is the highest governing body of the Catholic Church, above both the CCPA and the BCCCC. It is a “democratic” in structure but in which bishops are a minority. It is responsible for nationwide pastoral actions, Church activities, Episcopal appointments and even theological issues. The fact that it has jurisdiction over bishops makes in incompatible with the Catholic Church.
The CCPA had been trying for some time to organise an assembly to elected new CCPA and BCCCC presidents. Both posts have been vacant for years. CPCA President Michael Fu Tieshan (elected in 1998) died in 2007, whilst BCCCC President, Mgr Joseph Liu Yuanren, official bishop of Nanjing, died in 2005, a year after his election.
Recently, Card Joseph Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, wrote a number of articles and letters. In them he commented the papal Letter to Chinese Catholics, making suggestions to the bishops of China to avoid the assembly because it is “incompatible with Catholic doctrine,” according to the Pope.
Bishops contacted by AsiaNews said that the assembly was postponed several times because of a number of events like the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on 1 October 2009 and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010, as well as helping the victims of Sichuan earthquake in May 2009.
For Anthony Lam Sui-ki, a senior researcher with the Holy Spirit Study Centre of the Catholic Diocese in Hong Kong, the decision to postpone the assembly was a wise decision. It appears the Chinese government is starting to take into account reactions from outside of China. The delay will give Chinese leaders an opportunity to find solutions to the problems they with face with changes to the leadership. Mr Lam also stressed that it is abnormal for the assembly to be above the bishops’ conference.
Kwun Ping-hung, a Hong Kong-based China-Vatican relations observer, said that a number of reasons were given for the postponement of the assembly, and that the decision was not unrelated to the China-Vatican situation. Delaying the assembly will in fact give Beijing and the Holy See more time to solve problems and find some common ground.