Most Catholics in mainland China, I believe, would have been joyful to receive a new bishop with a papal mandate some years ago, but not any more. Such joy has turned into anxiety or even sorrow because we don’t know when this mandate will be used as a tool to fool or embarrass the Holy See in future. It is nothing new to us that the Holy See have repeatedly made bishop appointments in the hope of appeasing Beijing, and have made feeble protests at government appointees which fewer mainland Catholics are now feeling concerned about. Father Peter Luo Xuegang, chairman of the Catholic Patriotic Association in Yibin city, was ordained a coadjutor bishop of Yibin with a papal mandate in November. As expected, he invited his old classmate, the excommunicated “pseudo-bishop” Paul Lei Shiyin, to attend his ordination. We should have foreseen Lei would be a co-consecrator because such an act carried political significance: a self-ordained and excommunicated bishop is a chess piece of the Chinese government to challenge the Vatican. The authorities would definitely put Lei before an altar together with the Vatican-approved bishops at all costs to guard its political principles. Bishop Luo’s invitation to Lei was a slap in the face for the Vatican. Will Rome wake up to reality? Its unprincipled and loose rein on Chinese bishops in the past has directly fostered a trend of “self-election and self-ordination” of bishop candidates. In the end, the Holy See has not made any evaluation or criticism of itself but simply announced the excommunication of Lei and another priest who was also illicitly ordained as bishop. I feel discontented about such injustice done to the two “pseudo-bishops,” even though I support excommunicating them. Rome should take a close look at a recent TV interview featuring Wang Zuo’an director of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and understand two signals that he conveyed. Firstly, it should not be naïve in thinking that Beijing is really sincere in building diplomatic ties. Today, China has become a powerful nation and is playing a major role in the international arena. No country dares to cross swords with China over the issues of human rights and religious freedom. Therefore, Beijing does not care if it establishes ties with the Vatican or not. Of course, it would be impolite to openly reject Rome’s overtures. That’s why Wang said China will talk with the Vatican, but there is no urgency to achieve any results. He cited the 103 years of diplomatic negotiations between the Vatican and the United States as a comparison, saying at least “our talks won’t last longer than America’s.” In fact, we should know that before the US established ties with Rome, its Catholic Church operated normally and there was no government interference in the appointment of bishops. Secondly, the Holy See should appoint Chinese bishops more prudently and put quality before quantity. If you approve someone for something through wishful thinking and without any principle, Chinese people will not show respect for you. It would be very shameful and meaningless. The mentalities of Western and Chinese people are different. If a Westerner is excommunicated, he would either give in or quit the Church to start all over again, like Martin Luther and John Calvin. In China, known for its copying of branded goods, he would neither give in nor have the courage to quit. Instead, he would use your brand name and do his own thing. Can a decree of excommunication solve the problem? Maybe after a few years, those excommunicated will be back in the fold. By that time, they will probably feel nonchalant over today’s choices! Rome, please be cautious in dealing with China! Think thrice before you act! Mu Di is the pseudonym of a mainland Chinese priest from the “underground” community.
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