08/17/2016, 12.54
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Random thoughts on "imminent" China-Holy See relations

by Cheng Zhi

The author is a priest of the underground Church in China Eastern. A lot of media speak as if the agreements between Beijing and the Vatican were already ready. The problems of illegitimate bishops with lovers and children. Card. Tong and Card. Zen, separated only by optimism and pessimism. Doubts about the freedom that "the Chinese Empire" will grant the Church.

Beijing (AsiaNews) -In recent few weeks, the topic of Sino-Vatican relations seems to be all over the internet. It seems that the Holy See and China are ready to establish the diplomatic relations very soon. All of these make me want to say something about it, but I feel superfluous. However, if I say nothing at all, my heart grows heavy. So, I have decided to write down a few thoughts on three recant articles.


1. Legitimate and illegitimate bishops

Firstly, Reuters issued an article entitled: “Special Report – After decades of mistrust, Pope pushes for breakthrough with China” on the 14th of July. But this article seemed did not catch too much attention both from the Church and media. In the beginning of the article, it cited that: “Interviews with some two dozen Catholic officials and clergy in Hong Kong, Italy and mainland China, as well as sources with ties to the leadership in Beijing, reveal details of an agreement that would fall short of full diplomatic ties but would address key issues at the heart of the bitter divide between the Vatican and Beijing.”

The appointment of bishops is surely a key issue “at the heart of the bitter.” In the article, it said, according to some information from the “Catholic sources with knowledge of the deliberations”: because the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope might forgive the eight illegitimate bishops, whom have not get papal approval yet. The nearest possible time is early of this summer. Now the beginning of autumn has passed. It seems this summer has nothing to look forward to it! The article also mentioned that among the eight illegitimate bishops, three of them “have been officially excommunicated by the Vatican.” And “the other five were told through informal channels that the pope opposed their ordination as bishops.” The excommunication at here must be referring to the three statements issued by the Holy See before three illegal ordinations of bishops. But in the text also mentioned, the Church officials said by the end of June: two out the eight of them had not send a request to the Pope for forgiveness. More seriously, “at least two of the eight bishops allegedly have children or girlfriends, according to two Catholic sources.” On this issue, I do not know if they have children, but I do know that one of them has a girlfriend, and has sexual relations with other women.

Whether the government or the Patriotic Association, they had not made any response to any question about the negotiations with the Vatican. To the interview requirements of bishops by Reuters, the Director of Foreign Affairs Office from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association simply said: “They’re very busy people, often out in the field. Interviews would be very difficult”.i

2. The impetuous Card. Joseph Zen

Secondly, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen published an article on his blog on the 29th of July in three languages (Chinese, English, and Italian) to respond Gianni Valente’s article from Vatican Inside. Gianni Valente’s article has a misleading title: “Zen to Chinese Catholics: If agreement with China is signed, do not follow the Pope”. Although the Cardinal sometimes seems a bit extreme, but I always think: in the current time, among the people who talk about Chinese church, Cardinal Zen is the most incisive person who understands the Chinese Communist Government. So I always support the position of him, with his words respond to Gianni Valente’s article: a lamb refused to be eaten by the wolf, called confrontation?

3. The optimist Card. John Tong

Card. John Tong has always been a sensitive person and has always kept a low profile. Dramatically, Cardinal John Tong published an article on August 4th. It was titled: “Communion of the Church in China with the Universal Church.” In the article, with many Chinese priests’ concerning about the Church in China, the Shepherd of Hong Kong wrote on the issues of “Why does the Holy See persistently insist on dialogue rather than confronting the Chinese government? What does it mean by communion between the particular Churches and the universal Church? On what criteria should the bishops in the local Churches of mainland China be appointed? What role does the so-called Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China have? And what is its relationship with individual dioceses?” and he gives “a clear and comprehensible explanation of these issues of concern, clearly stating the consistent stance of the Church” and “in order to avoid any unnecessary misunderstanding.”

Cardinal Tong is well known with his law profile and heart filled care for the Church in China. Because of this attitude, when his article appears to the public, it immediately arouses attention from both the Church and political circles. This article will undoubtedly disclose his different position with his predecessor. And because of his position in the Chinese church, even makes people have a suspicion that his article had an approval from the Vatican. Of course, “any speculation with regard to a presumed role of the Holy See is inappropriate.”2 Even though, I do not think Cardinal Tong’s censure in the article is directed to his predecessor, as Cardinal Zen on August 8th said to the Apple Daily: “Do not treat him unjustly.” It’s just one is pessimistic, and another is optimistic.

4. Pray for China-Vatican relations

The Relationship between China and the Vatican has been a hot topic about 30 years. In last 20 years the Catholic in China seems lose her directions. The Vatican has been no clear statement at all. I remember once by an accident I had a conversation with the President of Vatican City State, Cardinal Edmund Szoka (Rested in the Lord on 20th August, 2014). During the conversation he asked about Catholic Church in China. At the end of my response I said: “Chinese Catholics are not afraid of persecution, but we need a clear guidance from the Holy See. We do not want to guess by our own.” He patted my shoulder with smile on his face and said: “Let us pray to God!” I think this is the Holy See’s position has always been: pray to God! Could we say that this position is wrong? Of course not, but strong enough to make you speechless.

If the Sino-Vatican relations as Cardinal Tong said: “do not violate the principles of faith and communion according to the specific circumstances,” and can “be adjusted according to what is feasible in the local situation.”3 I think this is a good solution, and the approach has been already existed in the Church. But the problem is that will “one religion, two systems” in Chinese characteristics be fully implemented in China? Look at Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems”, the answer is surely clear. For Catholic Church in China, it is even more worrying than Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems”. Of course, if it really can make agreement on “one religion, two systems”, I am happy to see it. However, I will indisputably follow the Pope’s any decision.

Although, from St. Pope John Paul II to Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, all three of them have kept on extending olive branches to China Empire, we have yet to see a dove come back with an olive branch in her bill. Where is the Chinese church going? We do not know. Anything can happen. When I was in school, in a paper about Catholic Church in China I wrote: “If the ‘Rites Controversy’ did not happen, perhaps China would be a Catholic country now.” After read my paper, one of my classmates questioned me: “If that were the case, Will God allow it to happen?” I answered him: “God allowed His only begotten Son was crucified on the cross, what is He might not allow!?” How bewildering Sino-Vatican relations will develop? At present time we still do not know, but God will allow the decision makers freely decide the directions. The only thing we can do is: Pray to God without ceasing!

iFor all above quotations see: Lisa Jucca, Special Report – After decades of mistrust, Pope pushes for breakthrough with China, Reuters, July 14, 2016.

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