The government-sanctioned church will keep records of all bishops
Some Vatican-approved bishops in China say they would not take new government regulations on the Catholic Church seriously. It merely reiterates old rules, they say, in the wake of a direct challenge to Beijing.
The new measures issued in late June demand that all bishops submit an application form and testimonials to the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC). The two bodies then verify the information and submit the material to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) for record-keeping.
They only attracted attention following the dramatic ordination of a bishop in Shanghai last month.
During the ceremony, Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin announced he was quitting the CCPA – the first bishop to do so in years – prompting applause from the congregation. He has reportedly since been restricted from his episcopal ministry.
In the opinions of some bishops, the 16-clause document aims at strengthening the power of the CCPA, a body has been in verbal confrontation with the Vatican due to its independent nature.
A Vatican-approved and government-recognized prelate in central China said he thought the document was a “pretext for more control” and was “counter-productive”, adding that such control did not work.
However, another dual-approved bishop in eastern China said he thought there was no need to make a fuss over this measure when China and the Vatican do not have diplomatic relations.
“We understand the Chinese government wants to manipulate everything. It is to challenge Rome and tells the world Beijing has control over religions, including the Catholic Church,” he said.
The document is just “repeating an old tune”, he added, in a reference to the Regulation on Religious Affairs in 2005 that has already stated this requirement.
He said he believed the Shanghai ordination prompted the government to carry out the measure with a certain amount of fanfare.
“Officials may warn Bishop Ma that the SARA has not received his record so he cannot exercise his ministry,” said the bishop.
One of the clauses states that the SARA will not keep archival record of bishops who are not approved by official church bodies.
“He would not be able hold any religious activities in a bishop’s capacity, could not represent his diocese to perform any duties and could not serve as the diocese’s legally assigned person,” it states.
Two other bishops who are not recognized by the government say they believed the new measure merely targets the “official” bishops.
One of them, Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar, who learnt about the policy from the internet, believed the Shanghai incident pushed the government to implement the archive filing measure.
The irony, he added, is that the government is not satisfied with some bishops selected through its own process of “self-election and self-ordination.”
There are nearly 100 Catholic bishops in mainland China, about one-third of which are not recognized by the government.
Bishop Peter, who is also not recognized, said the measure does not comply with the Code of Canon Law.
It only relates to a BCCCC regulation designed to establish standard practice within the official church community, he added.
“It’s just a trial. But if it really succeeds, it might cause a certain amount of restriction on us [the unregistered Church community],” said Bishop Peter. “For the moment, the government is placing emphasis on maintaining a harmonious society. Overall harmony gives us space for survival.”
Bishop Wei said he believed that lower-level officials may implement the measure differently from its original intent, while local dioceses may cooperate to varying degrees. He said he therefore doubted the severity of its effect across the country.
“The measure is a tool to use the bishops to damage the foundation of the Church,” said a Church observer requesting anonymity. “It is against the Chinese Constitution and international law in regards to religious freedom. It should not use registration to control the Church, which leads to the creation of a national Church.”
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