In China-Holy See talks, silence shrouds future of underground priests
Later this year, all priests must register to receive a certificate that allows them to exercise their ministry. But the request has to go through the Patriotic Association, whose statutes are "incompatible" with Catholic doctrine. Many priests, official and unofficial, now face an enormous dilemma.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Here at AsiaNews we have received and gladly publish this urgent appeal from a priest in South China.
Frequent appeals for help are arriving from the underground Catholic Chinese clergy, this year. They find themselves in a very difficult and serious dilemma: they are being forced to register by accepting the Catholic Patriotic Association with its three autonomy principles.
But, it seems that nobody cares for them. The public attention of all Catholics concerned with the Church in China is drawn elsewhere: it is focused upon the possible results of the ongoing negotiations between the Holy See and the Chinese Government. A lot of speculations have come out, either in favor or against them, but they kept mainly related to the issues of the election of Chinese Bishops and of the eventual diplomatic mutual recognition.
Card. John Tong, Bishop of Hong Kong, has intervened with a very balanced article emphasizing the need for dialogue and trying to solve all fears and critiques of those who do not agree with or oppose the negotiations. However, the main concern remains on top-level issues. The daily problems and difficulties of Chinese clergy and faithful do not seem to receive a proper attention. The above raised issue of the registration of the Catholic clergy deserves special attention, also within these official negotiations: it can pave the way for a solution of other issues. And it is rather urgent!
On February 13, the Global Times reported that China is now launching a massive campaign to check and register the identities of all religious workers: the certificate to be issued records the religious name, secular name, national ID card number and a unique number assigned to every individual religious operator. The campaign started with Buddhist monks but soon extended to Taoist and Catholic priests, who will have to apply for certificates by the end of this year. If a priest's, monk's or religious site's certificate application is rejected by the authorities, the applicant will not be granted a certificate by the concerned religious association. According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs regulations, those without certificates are forbidden from engaging in religious activities.
Following this, on February 25, in a meeting with officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, Catholic leaders of the two government-controlled official organizations in China, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the so-called Bishops' Conference, have unsurprisingly endorsed the 2016 work plans that the country’s authorities laid out for them. They not only will ordain bishops “under the leadership of the government” but also register the official clergy and forced unregistered clergy into the open church, requiring them to apply for the identity certificate.
Consequently, all the underground priests find themselves in a serious dilemma, since, in order to be able to carry on pastoral ministry, they have to apply for the registration through the Catholic Patriotic Association, accepting its principle of the autonomy, independence and democratic administration of the Church. Many of them are really in trouble and in pain for such a situation, since it goes against their faith, and do not know out to get out of it. Even several official priests are not happy about such a measure, because it creates further troubles.
People can wonder why the negotiations between the Holy See and Beijing do not deal with such an issue. Their official registration of the clergy is indeed desirable, but why they should apply for the identity certificate through the Patriotic Catholic Association and not simply through the State Administration for Religious Affairs or through other civil organs, as in other nations? Possible solutions seem to be available.