Many Catholics in and outside China were saddened to see the excommunicated Fr Paul Lei Shiyin participate in Yibin diocese’s episcopal ordination on November 30.
Those who know the Church in China’s trials and hardships over the past 60 years can understand their grief.
This incident inflicted more pain on a Church that has suffered much in its history, and it has prompted more people to ask: in what direction is the China Church heading?
Some might think about the issues of self-election, self-ordination of bishops and a democratic management of the Church.
However, Pope Benedict XVI has stated that these principles are incompatible with Catholic doctrine in his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics.
The Code of Canon Law (Canon 754) also stipulates clearly that all the faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees of the Church authority.
When the Church magisterium has made the issue clear, why is the China Church still polluted by wrong ideologies?
On the bulletin boards and walls of some “open” parishes, we can see the regulations of the Chinese Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Church in China (BCCCC). These regulations create conflicts and divisions within the Church, as the “underground” Catholics who have no affiliation with government-sanctioned bodies resent them.
Perhaps we are clear on our stance against the self-ordination of bishops, but we have been tolerating the principle of democratic management of the Church. Do we realize that the latter would bring great harm to the Church?
This principle in mainland China allows non-Catholics or others seemingly enthusiastic about the Church to interfere in affairs of the Church. For example, the Hebei provincial government tried to appoint an official as deputy rector of the regional seminary last year.
As a result of employing such a principle, people who have no religious background or theological knowledge would assume authority of diocesan bishops. Government officials know very well that the Church cannot do without a bishop.
By pushing the so-called democratic management of the Church, the communist government attempts to make the National Congress of Catholic Representatives the highest authority of the Church, thereby weakening the role of bishops and discarding the hierarchy of the Church.
We must ask all clergy who have received self-ordination for the sake of “pastoral need” to reflect on their bad example.
Does democratic management benefit the growth of faith, or does it infuriate God? Are we who are devoted to God willing to be puppets of the secular world? Do we want to ruin the faith of this generation in our hands? How would we justify this before God?
We cannot remain stony-hearted when we see bishops punished for not attending meetings organized by the CCPA and the BCCCC, or participating in self-ordination ceremonies. We should understand that a genuine shepherd must bravely defend the orthodox faith of the Church and that, without support from their flock, they can hardly forge ahead.
We should live and proclaim the truth of our faith. As the pope’s 2007 letter points out, democratic management is not compatible with Catholic doctrine, and we should utilize only structures that conform to Church law. We must rely on talented persons to build our dioceses, parishes and Religious congregations. We should not let government departments or organizations exploit the Church.
Many parishes hold formation classes on biblical studies and charismatic renewal. These are important, but the basic catechesis is more important. We need to strengthen and integrate both.
Only with a comprehensive approach to formation will the Church enhance the quality of faith and eliminate the spreading of wrong ideologies. Lacking basic catechesis, other kinds of formation would lose their structure and platform, which is unfavorable to the maturity of our Church community.
There is a saying that the best way to get rid of weeds and stones in a field is to plant good crops. I hope all bishops in mainland China will have a deep understanding of the harmfulness of democratic management to Church hierarchy and will lead their faithful to walk in the good way of faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of the Holy See.
Tang Xia is the pseudonym of a mainland Chinese priest
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