Doubts and indifference among Chinese Catholics toward Card Tong’s article
by Taxiang Lüren (他乡旅人)

Chinese Catholic websites did not publish the article. Many believers think that nothing will change. Card Tong “has tried not to offend the Chinese government". Whilst showing concern for the situation of the faithful, "he did not speak about the hard and demanding life of the Church". After the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, some priests expect "chaos" for the Church in China. One scholar offers his thoughts on the matter.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The article that Card Tong released last week does not seem to have arouses any enthusiasm among Chinese Catholics. Catholic websites in China did not publish it. Amid doubts and indifference, many think that given the state of the country – tight controls, social tensions, a return to Cultural Revolution – nothing will change. In view of this, we publish a commentary by a scholar who chose to sign under the pseudonym Taxiang Lüren (foreign traveller).

Since the 1970s, when China entered a historical phase of reform and overture, China and the Holy See tried several times to contact each other, but until now there have been no results. Recently, on 9 February, the publication of an article by Card John Tong, bishop of Hong Kong, titled The future of Sino-Vatican dialogue from the ecclesiological point of view, is something new in this area. The article lays out the position of the Catholic Church on the crucial issue of episcopal appointments and presents its vision on three issues, namely the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, illegitimate bishops and “underground” bishops.

In a certain sense, the article sends the message that the agreement between China and the Vatican could be near, and expresses the opinion of prelates of the Roman Curia on some important issues and on the development (of relations) between China and the Vatican. In short, the article shows that the agreement on the appointment of bishops could happen very soon, whilst currently there are many difficulties on other issues.

After many years of attempts between China and the Vatican, especially after the steady silent growth of the Church in China, and the full of determination to follow papal guidance and return to the Universal Church, it is really worth hoping for an agreement on episcopal appointments. The dream of such an agreement would be a historic event, a milestone, because it would be the first success after more than 60 years of work on the question of the Church on the basis of cooperation between China and the Vatican.

The curious thing is that Card Tong’s article did not stir any emotional response among readers, especially among mainland Chinese Catholics. Apparently, people seem unable to assess whether Card Tong’s article is only a theoretical reflection or the announcement of coming good news.

The few well-known Chinese Catholic websites like Tianzhujiao and Faith of Hebei did not mention Card Tong’s article. For the former, this behaviour is a bit unusual. It is strange and unusual for the website to ignore deliberately the article and treat it with indifference. Even some of the most popular blogs have failed to mention the prelate’s article. It seems that people have chosen an attitude of silence, or decided to read it without commenting it. Perhaps Fr Shan Ren (Shanren Shenfu, a well-known blogger, whose comments AsiaNews will publish in the near future) is the only one who has written and published something. It is as if people knew from their own experience that "the sun in China is still the same", and that no change can be expected. Whether an agreement is signed or not, whether it materialises or not, it is better to wait and see.

Some even believe that in the current Chinese context, with its strong ideological overtones, where the rule of law has failed amid strong social tensions, where freedom of expression is tightly controlled and the Cultural Revolution could make a comeback, an agreement between China and the Vatican is a bit like a savoury chicken leg that would be a shame to throw away (Chinese proverb). Even if an agreement were successfully signed, it would only be a simple success, something better than nothing.

Card Tong has worked hard, so hard, to write his articles, but it seems that he has tried not to offend the Chinese government, and has paid attention to mainland religious (bishops and priests) and believers who live in the middle of problems. Card Tong did not speak about the hard and demanding life of the Church; he did not speak about religious policy, and the difficulties caused by new regulations and the management of religious activity for the survival of the Church. He only explained and analysed the importance of the appointment of bishops from the ecclesiological point of view in the Church, for the benefit of a future agreement between China and the Vatican. However, for those who pay attention to the issues of the Church in China, this is really unconvincing.

At the end of the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, late last year, the reaction of participating priests was that there was nothing new. Some even used the word "chaos" to describe the future they foresee for the Church. Perhaps, this context explains the indifference of the mainland Church towards Card Tong’s article.