The Catholic Church in China is under immense pressure from the Communist government to revise its practices to match the state.
The episcopal consecrations in Chengdu, on November 30, and in Xichang, on December 2, in the presence of an “official” bishops imposed by the police were a “slap in the face” for the Sovereign Pontiff, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, declared on December 12 (see DICI no. 347, 12/23/16).
On December 20, 2016, the director of the Vatican Press Office, Greg Burke, announced that “all the Catholics in China await positive signs with impatience, which will build their confidence in the dialogue between civil authorities and the Holy See and allow them to hope for a future of unity and harmony.” Indeed, he added, the presence of an illicitly ordained bishop whose canonical position is still under review by the Holy See has caused “discomfort and concern amongst Chinese Catholics. (…) The Holy See understands and shares their sorrow.”
The 9th National Assembly of Catholic Representatives met from December 27 through 29th 2016 in the auditorium of the hotel Tian Tai in Beijing. 365 delegates from 31 provinces of the country, that is, 59 bishops, 164 priests, 30 nuns and 112 laymen, were present—according to official statements—although the auditorium’s maximum capacity is apparently significantly less, according to press agency AsiaNews. The presidency of the Assembly was held by Zhang Yijong, vice-president of the Department of the United Front, under whose authority are placed the religions officially recognized in China. And on December 29th in the afternoon, the 365 delegates were received in the Great Hall of the People on Tianmen Square, by Yu Zhengsheng, member of the Permanent Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party and President of the Consultative Political Conference of the Chinese People (the second Chinese chamber of parliament), and by Liu Yandong, Vice Prime Minister, and Sun Chunlan, director of the Department of the United Front.
The Assembly was, among other business, to renew the directors of the “official” bodies of the Chinese Church, by electing on December 28 the persons who will direct the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics and the ‘official’ Chinese Bishops’ Conference. At the 8th Assembly in 2010, news agency Churches of Asia reported, bishops were physically forced to attend and the Holy See had condemned this “unacceptable and hostile action;” it must be remembered here that the Pontifical Commission for the Catholic Church in China had previously published a press release instructing bishops not to participate in the 8th Assembly in 2010.
On December 27, Wang Zuo’an, director of the Ministry of State for Religious Affairs—that is of the religious policies of the Chinese government—spoke out in favour of the principles of “independence” of the Catholic Church (with regard to the Holy See) and of “patriotism” of the faith, along with the necessity of ongoing “sinisation,” in accordance with the will of President Xi Jinping as expressed in April 2015, in an address to the United Front. Thus religions in China cannot be referenced unless they are autonomous, freed from all foreign power, and put themselves at the service of the development of the nation as defined by the Chinese government. That same day, an editorial in the Global Times, a nationalist daily, explained that China’s “prerequisites” for a “constructive dialogue” with the Vatican were “the recognition of the only China” (or in other words, that the Holy See break off diplomatic ties with Taiwan) and “non-interference in Chinese internal affairs” (among others, the nomination of bishops).
Chinese media have confirmed the reelection, December 28, of Bishop Ma Yinglin, “official” bishop of Kunming excommunicated by Rome in 2006, in his functions at the head of the Council of Catholic Chinese Bishops, which is not recognized as a bishops’ conference by the Holy See. Bishop Fang Xingyao of Linyi, recognized by Rome but linked with the government and a participant in illicit ordinations, was brought back as president of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, a mouthpiece of the Party and of the government for the Church in China. Among the eight bishops not recognized by Rome, six are among the leading authorities of the Council of Bishops and of the Patriotic Association. This is a high number when one recalls that these six bishops are among a total of 19 vice-presidents.
Yu Zhengshen, member of the Political Bureau and leader of the Communist Party of Shanghai, closed the 9th National Assembly of Catholic Representatives on December 29, 2016, by calling for Chinese Catholics to distance themselves from Rome: “The Church should adhere to principles of autonomous administration, manage its affairs in an independent manner and lead believers on the path of ‘sinisation.’” His address, according to the Catholic Herald, gives an idea of the lack of will in Beijing to reestablish dialogue with the Holy See. According to the official media, Yu Zhengshen called for the Catholic churches to adhere to “socialism in its Chinese form.”
On the eve of this 9th Assembly, according to agency AsiaNews, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun wrote on his blog: “We can say that this is the most formal and explicit manifestation of the schismatic character of the Church in China.” He explains that the very existence of the Assembly is an obvious sign that the Chinese government is adopting a tough stance to exact “unconditional submission.” Cardinal Zen concludes:
Like every faithful Catholic, I long for a future of unity and harmony for our Church in China, but unity in truth and harmony in freedom.” The Justice and Peace commission in Hong Kong also denounced the anti-Catholic character of this Assembly."
China and the Vatican disagree on the idea that the “official” Chinese Church (under state control) should act outside of papal authority. Beijing severed diplomatic ties with the Holy See at the time of the Communist takeover in 1951, shortly after the Party authorized freedom of worship, but only in the churches approved by the State.
(Sources: cath-info – iMedia – AP – EDA – Catholic Herald – AsiaNews – DICI no. 348, 01/20/17)