Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - I am sorry to have to publicly rebuke a reporter who has been my friend for a long time.
To an article by Gianni Valente that appeared in the December 2009 issue of 30 Giorni (issue No. 12), I answered by briefly pointing out only the inaccuracies of fact in his accusations against me. I could have dealt more at length with that article which was strangely tendentious. For example, he used the adjective “inquisitorial” to describe the interview with Bishop An Shuxin by the Director of the Internet site “Chinese Church On-line”, an interview which, in my opinion, was conducted with surprisingly high professional fairness and which was published after revision by, and with the approval of, the person interviewed.
This time I must decidedly express my disapproval of Gianni Valente’s latest article that appeared in the January 2010 issue of 30 Giorni, entitled “Litterae communionis between Rome and Baoding”, which deals with the letter addressed to Bishop An Shuxin by the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. I cannot keep my peace, because I find this article unfairly one-sided, arrogantly judgmental, and manipulative of such an authoritative document from the Holy See, if not from the Holy Father himself.
The title “Litterae communionis” aroused in me the expectation of finding in the article the expression of something like a sincere joy for the just and balanced assessment of this sorrowful case, with the hope that this would finally bring back that harmony which, in that ecclesial community, has been for so long damaged. Instead, to my chagrin, what I find in this article is a stubborn defence of the author’s one-sided position in this controversy, and a distorted interpretation of Cardinal Bertone’s letter, with the danger of causing a sea of misunderstandings.
I try to prove my judgment (I am aware it is a judgment) by analyzing a few expressions in Gianni Valente’s article.
1. The priests who accused Bishop An Shuxin of “betrayal” did so (rightly or wrongly), not because of the simple fact that he has come out of the clandestine situation, but because of the way he did so. I am not acquainted with those priests and I do not know whether they are all saints, and I certainly disapprove the many things they did during this past period of confrontation. However, to anybody with even a minimum of sensitivity for the mind-set of people in the underground community of Baoding, it is obvious that those priests had serious motives of perplexity, seeing their Auxiliary Bishop, just released from prison, concelebrating with the illegitimate bishop.
To their demand of clarification, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples answered with a refusal, while it would have been easy to clarify things, as it has been done now in the letter by Cardinal Bertone. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in its communiqué of November 2009 denied that they sent a letter to Bishop An to put pressure on him to come out from the clandestine condition. However, they did not deny that in some way they encouraged him to do so. They even approved, albeit indirectly, that concelebration by promoting him from Auxiliary to Coadiutor Bishop. Moreover, with the letter of August 2008, they expressed unreserved approval of everything that he had done (obviously including also that concelebration).
Gianni Valente says that Bishop An Shuxin “chose to leave the clandestine state and exercise his pastoral ministry in fidelity to the Pope and also in accordance with the procedures and requirements imposed by the government”. This was certainly the subjective intention of the heroic Prelate, but the Holy Father, in his Letter to the Church in China, has also reminded us that “almost always” the Government imposes conditions which the Catholic conscience cannot accept (like concelebrating with illegitimate bishops and joining structures incompatible with the apostolic nature of the Catholic Church).
Gianni Valente says that “Benedict XVI confirms the episcopal authority of Francis An and desires that all diocesan priests recognize this, despite the position taken up by the bishop in the Patriotic Association.” This does not mean, however, that the Pope has legitimized the present situation or the decision of Bishop An to give his name to the Patriotic Association. The letter of Cardinal Bertone says, in fact, that that decision should have been avoided. This means that it was a wrong decision, not to be imitated.
The fact that the Pope did not request Bishop An to withdraw from that situation is a compromise dictated by reasons which justify it. Similarly, the legitimized Bishops in the official community were not requested to come out of those structures, with the obvious intent that they try to change, from within, the abnormal situation into a normal one. Now, what was the reason why the Pope did not ask Bishop An to withdraw from the Patriotic Association? It is an easy guess that this was in order not to provoke the Government (who might feel cheated by Bishop An) to irrational acts of retaliation (like promoting illegal episcopal ordinations).
Gianni Valente is a clever person and he should have understood all this. The Holy See is actually advising Bishop An to make the most of the good opportunities that may result from the mistake he committed.
The paragraph we are dealing with here is crucial in the whole letter of Cardinal Bertone. It deserves to be commented upon. Gianni Valente, however, chooses to bypass it. I ask the question: Precisely how does he understand the expression: “in the present circumstances it seems preferable for Your Excellency not to give up, on your own initiative, the possibility you have at present of acting in an official way…” The obvious explanation must be: If forced by the Government to make a choice, Bishop An has to renounce his official position and go back into the clandestine condition.
I should also notify an inaccuracy in the Italian translation (I suppose the Italian text is Gianni Valente’s translation from the English original). The English text does not say, as Gianni Valente quotes it in Italian: “in the present circumstances it seems preferable for Your Excellency not to give up, on your own initiative, the possibility you have at present of acting in an official way in order to accompany and lead all your priests, whether official or clandestine”. The English text says, instead: “in the present circumstances it seems preferable for Your Excellency not to give up, on your own initiative, the possibility you have at present of acting in an official way and to accompany and lead all your priests, whether official or clandestine”. The formulation of Gianni Valente’s Italian text may suggest that there is a subordination of the second clause “to accompany and lead all your priests” to the first clause “not to give up, on your own initiative, the possibility you have at present…” Actually, the two clauses are clearly independent and parallel to each other: “not to give up…”, “and to accompany and lead all your priests”.
It seems to me that Gianni Valente made an oversimplification by saying that the letter of Cardinal Bertone is simply a case of application “to a particular case” of “some of the guiding criteria that Benedict XVI had outlined in his Letter to Chinese Catholics of May 2007”. Now, it is not as simple as that. A tortuous path has been treaded for some time and has now been straightened by the wisdom and kindness of the Holy Father in a very difficult exercise of balance between truth and charity.
The Bishops have the difficult responsibility to make decisions, but always with respect of the principles stated in the Letter of the Pope to the Church in China. The decision of Bishop An to give his name to the Patriotic Association is not only “questionable”, but simply “wrong”, even though the Bishop had the intention of doing something good for the Church. The Holy Father did not disqualify the Bishop, because he believes in his professed loyalty and so condones his mistake of judgment.
It would be certainly unfair to judge Bishop An’s choice as a “cowardly and reprehensible form of surrender”. However, the letter of Cardinal Bertone says clearly that the Prelate has gone beyond the criteria and possibilities laid down by the Pope’s Letter. So it was a mistaken decision, which should not be imitated in similar situations.
The expression used by Gianni Valente that the Holy See invites every body to “follow him” (the Bishop) must be explained with caution: to follow him in the structures of the official community? No, especially given the correct reading of the letter, as we have explained in No. 5. Actually, when the letter tells the Bishop to accompany and guide all his priests “whether official or clandestine”, the latter are obviously to be understood as still operating in the clandestine situation.
I cannot help but feel deep indignation when Gianni Valente talks about “sectarian tendencies” (“derive settarie” in Italian). May God forgive him!
I can easily forgive, instead, his innuendo about the “undue outside pressures”. If from outside we could help the two sides of the ecclesial divide in Baoding to understand and respect each other and to reconstruct the unity in truth and charity, we would have reason to feel happy, because, as Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers!”