China and Vatican: incredulous reactions and distress over Shanghai Bishop Ma Daqin’s "volte-face"
After resigning from the Patriotic Association, and having suffered four years under house arrest, Msgr. Ma appears to have retracted his positions, lauding the PA and its’ functions in favor of the Chinese Church. Some faithful believe he "was forced"; others that he is the victim of "too much pressure"; for others still, this "submission" is the "price he must pay" to regain freedom for the community of Shanghai, where perhaps the seminary (closed for 4 years) will reopen in September. The Vatican gives little credence to the bishop’s statements. A Chinese bishop wonders whether dialogue between the Holy See and China is of any use and is concerned that someone in the Vatican piloted Ma Daqin’s "confession" to please the Chinese government.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Vatican officials advise "not to make too much of what is written" in a blog posted on June 12, where Msgr. Thaddeus Ma Daqin proclaims his support for the Patriotic Association (PA) and asks forgiveness for the mistakes he made in the recent past.
But among Chinese priests and lay people from different parts of China, the bishop of Shanghai’s "re-conversion", after four years under house arrest, is provoking reactions of dismay, disbelief, pain, as well as anger toward the government that has managed to "isolate one of its citizen for four years" and after considerable pressure "make him confess to anything". In addition, a bishop fears that someone in the Vatican suggested Ma Daqin “confess” to please the government.
On July 7, 2012, the day of his episcopal ordination (see photos), approved by both the Holy See and the Government, Msgr. Ma had communicated his decision to leave the Patriotic Association to devote himself fully to his pastoral work. During the ceremony he had also avoided the laying on of hands by an illegitimate bishop. For his "insubordination", a few hours after the ceremony, he was placed in solitary confinement in the Shanghai Sheshan Seminary, at the foot of the shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians, denied all visitation rights and stripped of his right to bear any sign of his Episcopal ordination neither miter or cross, nor celebrate in public.
The authorities "revenge" of what they considered an insult to China's religious policy was total: They closed the seminary; placed controls on female religious orders, closed down the diocesan publishing house; would not allow the opening of a Holy Door for the Jubilee of Mercy; large sums of money disappeared from the accounts of the diocese. Msgr. Ma was also stripped of the title of "bishop" of Shanghai and subjected to "investigation for violating norms”. Meanwhile, the government of the diocese was entrusted to five dean-priests but they are only permitted to manage nominal tasks that are least problematic. In this situation, the Diocese of Shanghai, one of the liveliest in China, risks being stifled by starvation.
At this point, enter the u-turn and "re-conversion" of Msgr. Ma Daqin.
For all these years, Msgr. Ma was allowed to keep a blog on sina.com, on which he often posted his spiritual reflections, ponderings, or participated virtually in universal and local Church events. Sometimes the blog was blocked, before being restored. On June 12 last, he posted an article that we translated and published in full. It is the fifth in a series dedicated to the figure of Msgr. Aloysius Jin Luxian, the official bishop of Shanghai, who died in 2013, to whom he was ordained coadjutor (for the government; Auxiliary for the Holy See), on the centenary of his birth, on June 20. The article, entitled "He taught us to take the path of loving the country, loving the Church", expressed appreciation for the way in which Msgr. Jin was able to hold together his missionary efforts with respect and cooperation with the PA. The text highlights Msgr. Jin’s ability to seek the "independence" of the Chinese Church, the fact he did not depend on "foreigners" in in governance or among his personnel, but at the same time sought to live in unity with the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". Msgr. Jin’s teaching, continues Msgr. Ma, helped him to "respect the laws of the State" and to view the PA’s contribution to the management of the Church's life in a positive light. At a certain point, what might be termed a "confession" emerges: "There was a period I was also tricked by outside elements, and made errors of words and deeds against the Patriotic Association. On reflection, I find this was an extremely unwise move, and my conscience was not peaceful, hurting those who selflessly cared for me and helped me for a long time, and damaging Bishop Jin’s long term effort of building a good situation of development in the Catholic Church in Shanghai. Such errors should have not occurred in Shanghai Catholic Church, where a tradition of patriotism and love of religion has been developed. For this, my heart has been uneasy and felt guilty. I hope to use concrete actions to remedy these mistakes. I have always maintained a strong affection for the PA in Shanghai, derived from its constructive role and its contribution to the development of the Church, for instance, like at the restoration of religious activities, the PA has helped implement the policy; after the reform and opening of China, the PA assisted the Church to carry out pastoral work; and personally I participated in the work of Patriotic Association, on big and small matters. The PA is not how many outsiders judge it to be, and I believe most of the priests and faithful in Shanghai recognize and trust the PA. The PA has an irreplaceable role in the development of the Church in China".
And he concludes: "In the Easter Vigil hymn, we sing the' Felix Culpa ': This verse seems to encourage us today and give us hope. The encouragement is when we have sinned and fallen, we have to accept the punishment; the hope is we have learned a lesson, we have to start again from where we have fallen and to begin a new life".
Many Chinese faithful are incredulous at Msgr. Ma’s “u-turn". A Christian from central China is not "sure" that the article on the blog was really written by the bishop. "He had never spoken of politics before. What’s more a few months ago his account was deleted from weibo [the Chinese Twitter]. So you cannot contact Msgr. Ma in any form to ask him about this change. "
For several young faithful of Shanghai "it is a lie: the letter is not by the bishop. It was written by someone else. It is the usual government game, and we don’t believe it anymore".
This disbelief is also due to the fact that in recent years Msgr. Ma had become something of a symbol of the Church's resistance (official!) to government and PA interference in the lives of communities and many hoped that other bishops (official) would follow his example by standing firm in the principles of faith. Msgr. Ma’s net stance had produced a greater unity in the Church of Shanghai between the official and underground communities. The latter, in fact, do not accept PA enrollment, given that its statutes explicitly contain the principle of seeking to build a Church "independent" of the Holy See. A priest in northern China is concerned that Msgr. Ma’s latest stance will once again "divide the community and drown it in confusion. The government knows how to exploit these situations". The priest believes, Msgr. Ma "was forced to write those things, perhaps in exchange for a minimum concession of freedom. It's sort of price to pay, as in the case of the bishop of Zhouzhi (Shaanxi) ". The reference is to Msgr. Martin Wu Qinjing, ordained without PA permission and kept in solitary confinement for 10 years. He was installed by the government as bishop of his diocese only after agreeing to concelebrate with an illegitimate bishop.
Another priest from Eastern China also cites the example of Msgr. Wu: "I think it's an imposition just like with Zhouzhi", he tells AsiaNews. He adds: "This pains me deeply. Msgr. Ma Daqin had become a model for those suffering hardship because of the faith. Right now, China is facing a huge challenge. Often, young priests try to obtain the most convenient situation that will ensure a certain tranquility, without problems. Instead, there are some fixed points from which you cannot turn back, or the government is likely to absorb the life of the Church, transforming it into a meaningless body".
Other faithful of Shanghai think that the article was written by Msgr. Ma and this greatly upsets them: "Everything that he has stood for and witnessed to date - says Jiang, 30, - is useless now. If he had continued, he could have a positive impact on the whole Church. " Others, however, show compassion and understanding for the bishop: "Who knows what he must have endured and suffered for so long. Now the government no longer has any obstacles to strengthening its control over the Church, with the PA and the council of bishops "[both bodies not recognized by the Holy See] dominating all else. "I think - says another young man - that no one can resist pressure and isolation for too long. The Chinese government can even make a stone confess to its mistakes on television". The reference is to the series of televised "confessions" by activists, journalists, editors, human rights lawyers with their "live admissions".
Taking this into account, the comment of a Vatican official (who has chosen to remain anonymous) made to AsiaNews is of note. The official advises against “giving too much credence to this 'confession', until the circumstances in which it took place are clarified". The official states that the Vatican did not advise Msgr. Ma to "soften" his position.
Several people are wondering what Ma could gain, having paid so dearly. For example, there are increasingly strong rumors that predict the re-opening of the Shanghai Seminary next September. The seminary was closed on the heels of seminarians "collaboration" with Msgr. Ma: during the episcopal ordination ceremony, they had kept illicit bishops who wanted to join the celebration out of the church.
A Chinese bishop in southern China questions: "It is a pity that the Vatican is silent. In my view, the Holy See must reiterate that the article contains elements that are not compatible with the doctrine of the Church, no matter who the author is. This silence only creates confusion and generates many questions: how is it that the Holy See continues to maintain dialogue with the Chinese government allowing such manipulation of a bishop? I hope that Ma Daqin’s 'conversion' was not piloted by someone in the Vatican to promote an increasingly pointless dialogue".