Chinese Academy of Social Sciences calls for a rethink of religious policy towards Catholics
The Academy’s annual report says the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association interferes too much in the life of the Bishops’ Council. Some voice concerns about possible criticism at the next meeting of the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, the top body of China’s Catholic Church, which the Pope deems irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Églises d’Asie) – A researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said that the Chinese government should review its religious policy towards Catholics. In the study, she criticises the current role played by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and the Bishops’ Council. She also raises doubts about the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, the governing body if the official Catholic Church in China.

In the CASS annual report on religions in China that was released in mid-September, Wang Meixiu, a member of the Institute of World Religions, a research unit at CASS, noted that Chinese Catholics have increased their ties with the universal Church. A keen observer of Catholic affairs in China, she said that China constitutes a unique case because of the existence of the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, whose “democratic” choices are imposed on official bishops, and the CPCA, which supervises the Bishops’ Council, roughly the equivalent of a national bishops’ conference elsewhere in the world, but without Holy See recognition.

In the report, Wang Meixiu suggests that the two organisations ought to specialise according to tasks. The Bishops’ Council should be left to run the Church, whilst the CPCA should act as a “bridge” between Church and state.

Currently the CPCA, whose secretaries are often atheist, runs every aspect of Church life, from vocations and Episcopal appointments to financial matters. For Ms Wang, clearing defining the responsibilities of each organisation should improve the government’s religious policy.

As for the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, she notes that it has failed to meet since 2004 even though it is viewed as the governing body of the official Catholic Church.

The next meeting should elect the new presidents of the CPCA and the Bishops’ Council, both of which are vacant. Patriotic Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, elected CPCA president tin 1998, died in 2007. Mgr Joseph Liu Yuanren, patriotic bishop of Nanking and president of the Bishops’ Council, passed away in 2005.

For one reason or another, the meeting to elect their replacements has been postponed, because of an earthquake and the Olympic Games in 2008, the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2009 and the Shanghai Expo this year. Still, as Wang Meixiu points out, the government is bound to convene the assembly after Expo, in late October, to avoid “criticism”, which is coming from various directions.

With the CPCA pushing for the election of unlawful Bishop Ma Yinglin (pictured), official bishops recognised by the Vatican would face a major dilemma over whether to participate or not. In March, the Vatican Commission for the Church in China issued a statement in which it called on bishops accepted by the Pope to avoid “actions (like sacramental ceremonies, Episcopal ordinations and meetings) that contradict the communion with the Holy Father.”

Above all stands Benedict XVI’s Letter to Chinese Catholics, which said that the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives and the charter of the CPCA are irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine.

The annual report on religions, issued by CASS, provides only suggestions to the government, which is free to heed them or not.