St. Joseph’s Church at the busy Wangfujing area in Beijing
Observers of the Church in China say a recent document issued by the Vatican about laity formation and Church principles answered the call for clarity but would not yield immediate results.
Ren Yanli, a former researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said the communiqué
was consistent with the Vatican’s position on the China Church and met many expectations.
“I think the most notable sentence is ‘evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline,” Ren said.
“It did not mention relations with the Chinese government, showing the Vatican no longer wants to do things on its own wishful thinking.”
He added that the effect of the communiqué would depend on how Chinese Catholics react to it.
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, a senior researcher at Hong Kong diocese’s Holy Spirit Study Centre, said the Vatican document would have long-term effects.
He said that of the two focal points of the document – laity formation and faithfulness to Church principles – formation was “important but less urgent.”
The morale of the lay faithful is greatly affected by the behavior and integrity of their bishops, so observing Church principles is the first priority, he said.
“The major premise of evangelization should be keeping the completeness of the mystical body of Christ,” he said.
Kwun Ping-hung, a Hong Kong-based observer, says laity formation and observing Church principles are interrelated and inseparable, for “if some bishops’ words and deeds obfuscated the clarity of the face of the Church, how can integral formation of lay Catholics be achieved?”
The communiqué criticized two types of bishops – illegitimate bishops who have carried out acts of jurisdiction or who have administered the Sacraments, and legitimate bishops who have participated in illegitimate episcopal ordinations.
However, “it does not make a clear stance on those bishops who have received pardon from the Vatican but then participated in recent legitimate ordinations together with illegitimate bishops,” observed Kwun, who is not a Catholic.
It also does not touch on other elements, including the political environment that has caused difficulties for the China Church and certain decisions by the Vatican that brought about disagreements among Chinese Catholics, Kwun added.
This could help the Vatican to set up various channels of dialogue with China but would not resolve the divisions and confusion among mainland clergy and faithful, and therefore weakened the communiqué’s guiding function, Kwun said.