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Pope Benedict's resignation prompts conspiracy theories and concerns over Communist hardliners

China Catholics see a 'storm brewing' in the Church

Pope Benedict's resignation prompts conspiracy theories and concerns over Communist hardliners
Pope Benedict meets some Chinese Church leaders at St. Peter reporter, Hong Kong

February 20, 2013

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Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement did not only shock Chinese Catholics, it also raised doubts.

“Is there any hidden agenda,” a bishop in southern China asked. 

Chinese Communists would take a harder line now that they “defeated” the pope, the middle-aged prelate said he had heard.  

“I worry there is a storm brewing in the Church in China,” he said. “It’s not only me, but many priests and laypeople here also share the same doubts.” 

Messages in QQ chat rooms and over Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog, questioned the reasons behind the pope’s announcement.

“The pope was forced by evil power to step down. Please join together praying for Benedict and the Holy Church,” one prayer intention read. 

“The Church is at a critical moment for the pope is forced to leave the Vatican or he will lose his life,” the message said, asking Catholics to pray and fast. “The Antichrist will take control of the Church and attack the pope and his flock… A fake pope will then take office and disguise himself to cheat the clergy and make them fall into the trap.”

Some Chinese Catholics are fond of revelation messages and stories of miracles which are not proven. Messages from Our Lady of Medjugorje, which are quite popular here, are another example. 

It is rumored that the messages were manipulated by Chinese authorities and people who support illicit Episcopal ordinations in an attempt to make people think the Vatican is not legitimate -- and that the practice of self-election and self-ordination of bishops would seem closer to God’s will.

Father Paul Su Yaxi, director of Hengshui diocese’s pastoral center, in northern Hebei province, thinks the rumors might be spread by some cult members or some die-hard Catholic laypersons.

Fr Su thinks the best way to resist the spreading of rumors and even heresy is to strengthen the faith of Catholics. “Good trees bear good fruits. If the fruit is not good, that proves what we believe is problematic.”

Nonetheless, the vast majority of Catholics have gradually accepted the news from Rome optimistically, even though they will miss the pope who cares much about the Church in China.

Father John Mi from northern China saw the papal resignation as “unexpected but reasonable.”

“Benedict XVI may have remembered his predecessor’s final days and made this understandable move after considering the good of the Church,” Fr Mi said.

Speaking about problems the China Church suffers in recent years, Bishop Peter from the “underground” community said the pope has set a good example for elderly bishops. “The news [of the resignation] just comes in time. The pope’s wisdom is guided by the Holy Spirit.”

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