Chinese patriotic assembly gets underway to build Church independent of the Vatican
by Zhen Yuan
Many bishops in attendance were coerced into attending the meeting. Two bishops whose ordination is unlawful under Canon law are present. Participants praise the Communist Party for its respect for the religious freedom of Catholics. In Hong Kong, the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission stages a demonstration to protest the violation of religious freedom, calling for the release of jailed bishops and priests.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The eighth National Assembly of Catholic Representatives in China began in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon at the Friendship Hotel, in the city’s Haidian district. Its high-sounding goal is “to support patriotism and independent Church principles, resist outside forces and unite all clergy and Catholics to walk the path of socialist society.”

In Chinese Communist terminology, “independence” means autonomy and separation from Rome. “Outside forces” refer to the Vatican and the Holy See, which exercising their Ecclesial ministry, are guilty of “undue colonial influence” on the Chinese Church, this according to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).

CCPA vice president Liu Bainian chaired the assembly’s opening session. Bishop Fang Xinyao of Linyi (Shandong) delivered the opening address; Bishop Ma Yinglin of Kunming (Yunnan) read a report on the association’s activities; Bishop Zhan Silu of Mindong (Fujian) explained the revisions to the constitutions of the CCPA and the Bishops’ Conference. Both Ma and Zhan were unlawfully ordained in 2006 and 2000 respectively.

In his Letter to Chinese Catholics, Benedict XVI said that the CCPA and the Bishops’ Conference as well as the Assembly of Catholic Representatives are organisations whose purpose is “irreconcilable” with the Catholic faith. For this reason, the Vatican back in March told Chinese prelates not to attend the event.

For the past four years, the Assembly has had to be postponed because official bishops had refused to participate, following directives from the Holy See.

According to China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), 341 people from 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities are "nominated or invited members" at the assembly. They include 64 bishops, 162 priests, 24 nuns and 91 laypeople. It is unclear whether the number 64 refers to bishops invited or actually present.

As AsiaNews has already reported, a number of bishops have gone into hiding or called in sick to avoid being dragged to Beijing. Others have been forcibly taken by government officials. Some, knowing that they could not refuse, came on their own but have refused to concelebrate Masses because of the presence of excommunicated bishops.

Zhu Weiqun of the United Front’s Work Department, Wang Zuo’an, SARA chief, and Jiang Yongjian, SARA vice director were present at the opening ceremony. In his speech, Wang praised the Communist Party and government for the respect they show to the Catholic religion and the interests of Chinese Catholics. Leaders of Protestant, Buddhist, Taoist and Muslim organizations were also present.

In Hong Kong, members of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission staged a protest outside China’s Liaison Office. Demonstrators stressed that the three-day assembly violates Catholic Canon Law and undermines the freedom and normal operation of the Catholic Church.

They also noted that Chinese authorities had to use violence and pressure to coerce bishops and lay people into coming, holding some in isolation or taking them into custody, violating the religious freedom and rights of Chinese Catholics.

The commission called for the release of detained clergymen, including Baoding’s Bishop Su Zhimin, Father Lu Genjun, Father Ma Wuyong and Father Liu Honggeng, as well as Bishop Shi Enxiang of Yixian.