Church unity in China after the Sino-Vatican agreement (I)
The dialogue between the Vatican and the Chinese government, which led to the signing of the agreement on the appointment of bishops, does not seem to have created more unity in the Church. The government and the United Front continue to promote an "independent Church", totally submitted to the Communist Party. The latter’s policy towards Catholics has only been updated, not changed.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - The much-hoped-for dialogue and the Sino-Vatican agreement are not generating greater unity in the Church. On the contrary, the government and the United Front continue to promote an "independent Church", totally submitted to the Chinese Communist Party. This is the view expressed by Duo Mu (Thomas), a lay Catholic from Hebei, in a piece whose first part we publish today. For Duo Mu, the Chinese Communist Party's policy towards the Catholic Church has been updated, not changed.
Following China’s opening in the 1980s, the Church went through the pontificates of Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the current pontiff, Pope Francis, each cordially showing a desire to engage Chinese authorities in dialogue. Through humility and patience, China and the Vatican finally met in Beijing on 22 September 2018 to sign the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of bishops.
I believe that the whole Chinese Church, the one recognised and the one not recognised by the authorities, is in favour of the dialogue between the Vatican and the Chinese government. As we all know, problems cannot be solved without dialogue, and mutual trust must be allowed to grow between the Vatican and the Chinese authorities. This is a historic moment, and it shows us that China and the Vatican are on the path of dialogue.
1. The limits and duration of the Sino-Vatican Agreement
The full name of the Sino-Vatican Agreement should be ‘Sino-Vatican Provisional Agreement on the appointment of bishops". The limits of the Agreement concern exclusively its content vis-à-vis "appointment of bishops", i.e. the pastoral part, whilst the provisional duration of the Agreement is two years.
Answering questions from journalists, Pope Francis said that the Agreement was not just an impulse, but "a true journey", and the negotiation “process went like this: two steps forward, one back, two forward, one back”. The Holy See spokesman Greg Burke said that the Agreement does not represent the end of a process but is its beginning.
According to the Vatican Press Office, "The above-mentioned Provisional Agreement, which is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application. It concerns the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level” (Communiqué, Vatican Press Office, 22 September 2018).
We can therefore see that the Sino-Vatican Accord is not a mature fruit. What both parties have done after a long negotiation process is to "assess the situation step by step". The aforementioned Agreement provides for continuous revisions and readjustments in its implementation; in the event of disagreements and dissensions, the Agreement allows for modifications, revisions and even cancellation. Praising an accord whose content, progress and result are unknown is akin to what writer Lu Xun describes in his novel, namely the attitude of ‘Ah Q’ who ignores the truth and tries to escape from reality by deceiving himself.
2. Have the policies adopted by the Chinese authority against Catholicism changed?
As we all know, with the proclamation of the Republic in 1949, the Chinese government adopted harsh policies in order to suppress religion, from the Socialist Education Movement to the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, through the strategies of the United Front, the authorities sought to establish a Chinese form of Catholicism, independent of the Pope, publicly denying the primacy of the Holy Father.
During the rite of consecration of bishops and priests, it was necessary to swear that one was separate from the Pope and that one would follow the leaders of the Communist Party. In booklets such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Missal and the Holy Bible, all the sentences and doctrines dictated by the Pope were cancelled. Praying for the Pope, etc., was not allowed. Only towards the end of the 1980s did the situation see some improvement. The policy of repressing religion with violence has undergone changes, aimed at letting religion disappear naturally with the growth of socialism.
In 1982 a paper titled ‘The basic viewpoint on the religious question during our country's socialist period’ (also known as ‘Document 19’) was issued. A "third paper" was issued in 1989, dealing with how to intensify work on Catholicism in a new context. A “sixth paper” followed in 1991, which looked further at religious matters. More recently we have had the ‘Regulations of religious affairs’, etc.
On the face of it, the politics of religion have undergone changes, but in truth the attitude that the government has towards religion, and so the policies adopted, have remained almost the same. Following the Sino-Vatican Agreement, local authorities have begun to impose changes on underground priests, and the government has clearly sent the message that “The Sino-Vatican Agreement has been signed, but religion policies do not change, everything remains as before." Therefore, "policy changes on religion" are actually changes in United Front strategies.
As far as Catholicism is concerned, the basic and central policy of "creating an independent Church and naming bishops freely and independently" has never changed, and the government has not changed its mind with respect to an "independent Church".
However, why do the Chinese authorities fail in their attempt to repress and control Catholicism, and what drives the government to continually change and renew the strategies of the United Front? It is faith in the truth and loyalty to the Pope of the Catholic Church in China that have made all this possible, and, despite the vicissitudes experienced, the Catholic Church in China has never forgotten the original intent, and continues to be faithful to her own conscience, despite the persecutions.
The "independent Church" separated from the Pope is therefore not the Catholic Church; the bishops without the Pope's appointment are not even pastors of the Church; what is false cannot be disguised as truth, even if it has been in place for 60 years thanks to government help, looking more and more like Catholicism but unable to mask its true face.
(End part one)