Underground Church on Ninth Assembly: Chinese Catholics used as pawns and tools of political tactics
by Elizabeth Li

The Assembly ended yesterday aimed at "dividing the Church in China". For an elderly priest, "Pope Francis’ position is ambiguous and vague." Allowing underground bishops into China's bishops' conference would give them the majority. The "optimistic" towards Chinese government are either "naive" or "ambitious."

Beijing (AsiaNews) - "In all meetings, up to the Ninth, Catholic participants are used as pawns and tools of the United Front political tactics": says Simon, a lay Catholic leader of the underground Church with regard to the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic representatives that ended yesterday.

Simon has told AsiaNews that these Assemblies "are meant to divide the Catholic Church in China". However, he adds, "the faith of Catholics in the Church hierarchy will not be shaken, and the divisions in the Church in China will not weaken the loyalty of the faithful in China. These divisions will not achieve any positive results for the Chinese authorities. The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear and precise".

Simon’s reaction is just one of many, all negative, that have arrived at AsiaNews from underground communities about the Assembly of  - according to official figures - 59 official bishops, including those approved by the Holy See and those considered illegitimate . The Assembly, according to the teaching of Benedict XVI, confirmed by Pope Francis, is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine."

In the previous edition, in December 2010, the Vatican had asked the bishops to "avoid making gestures ... that contradict communion with the Pope". This time, perhaps given hopes for dialogue between China and the Vatican, the Holy See, while reaffirming its "known" position with regard to the gathering, did not give any directive to the bishops whether to participate or not.

An elderly priest says he is "disappointed that the Holy See has allowed Chinese Catholics to participate in the Ninth Assembly." He holds Pope Francis’ position to be “ambiguous and vague", unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Bergoglio, he added, "has made unlimited concessions" and that "hurts the underground community."

Fr. Thomas, of South China, admits that "at present it is unclear what will happen to the underground community."

Since a more regular so-called "dialogue between China and the Vatican" resumed, the underground Church feels left out and "forgotten" because many gestures made thus far by the Holy See seems to support the membership of the Patriotic Association and penalize underground communities . According to Fr. John, 2017 will be an "unusual year because it will bring changes following the Ninth Assembly". He points out that "the Holy See should approve more bishops in the underground Church" and leave "the leadership of the Church to those who with courage and truth." He says that the future Chinese bishops' conference would include underground bishops and that "underground bishops should be the majority."

Another priest, serving the official Church, says that "those who are optimistic about the Chinese government are either too naive, or have ambitions of power".