In Baoding Bishop An threatens to withhold the sacraments from those who do not register
In the Diocese of Hebei, the official bishop published a pastoral letter claiming that over the past few months he concelebrated the liturgy with 30 priests who hitherto belonged to the underground Church. Using the pastoral guidelines issued by the Vatican in 2019, he is truing to get Catholics to join the Patriotic Association. A local source warns that the clergy has come under unprecedented pressure. The local Church had resisted so far, but now there is widespread confusion.
Milan (AsiaNews) – On 15 July, Francis An Shuxin, the official bishop of Baoding, published a pastoral letter on the civil registration of the clergy in the Diocese of Baoding. In it he wrote that more than 30 priests have concelebrated the liturgy with him over recent months.
This follows the Sino-Vatican Agreement of 2018, the pastoral guidelines issued by the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China (June 2019), as well as other pontifical statements that encourage the clergy to officially register and all members of the Diocese to accept registered clergy, so as to favour the unity of the Diocese.
Anyone who does not accept the situation would be denied the sacraments and any special privileges granted by the Holy See in June 1978 to unregistered clergy were no longer valid; hence, the civil authorities would treat offenders in accordance with the law and regulations.
When the pastoral guidelines were issued, they attracted some attention, especially in Fujian, where, according to some, the Diocese of Mindong was the “testing ground” for the Sino-Vatican Agreement.
The guidelines were not in fact meant for the whole Chinese Church since they were not signed. “However, this year they drew attention, especially in Hebei, where the authorities have used them to undertake the unprecedented ‘forced transformation’ of the unofficial clergy. This was especially the case in Baoding, in March and April.”
An observer in China writes: "In addition to fully restricting the individual freedom (through monitoring and imprisonment) of the underground clergy and allowing abuse by Chinese authorities (through physical and mental pressure), the Holy See’s pastoral guidelines were used as a threat to achieve “transformation’.
“The guidelines have become the most powerful tool in the government’s arsenal to "transform" the underground clergy under the flag of the Vatican.” This has provoked several reactions.
Some scholars analysed the guidelines in articles and refuted them from the point of view of theology and pastoral care, stressing their ambiguity and ignorance of the way Chinese authorities operate.
Others tried to clarify their objective meaning, noting their abusive use by Chinese authorities, especially the failure to respect freedom of conscience, which the guidelines uphold.
“Under unprecedented pressure, the pastoral guidelines played a decisive role this time,” notes the Chinese observer. “In Baoding for example, priests known for decades for their fidelity [to Rome], in just two or three months signed what they had previously considered 'contrary' to their faith and shared the Eucharist with Bishop An, who had already joined the Patriotic Association.
“For this reason, some people say that the pastoral guidelines are really a powerful weapon in the hands of the government since the loyal Church in Baoding collapsed en masse. But the pain doesn't stop there.
“Many priests had never seen the guidelines before and when the authorities read them to them, they signed it accepting the conditions, according to their spirit. They thought this was really the will of the Holy See. But this did not lessen their confusion or doubts.
“After signing some priests suffered a nervous breakdown, while others regretted what they did and reacted with great sorrow. In some cases, priests who had joined the official Church were rejected by their parishioners and had to go home and isolate themselves. As a consequence, the Diocese of Baoding is now in an unprecedented state of chaos.”