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Prospects for China-Vatican dialogue are bleak, say clergy

Churchmen say China won't take Vatican olive branch

This episcopal ordination in Nanchong in April was approved by the Vatican but attended by an illicit bishop This episcopal ordination in Nanchong in April was approved by the Vatican but attended by an illicit bishop
  • ucanews.com reporter, Beijing
  • China
  • October 31, 2012
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Bishops and priests in mainland China are pessimistic that their government will respond to a Vatican senior official’s invitation to enter into a new dialogue.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, issued a message last Thursday, titled Five years after the publication of Benedict XVI’s letter to the Church in China.

While reiterating the Church’s stance, the cardinal showed his openness to restarting dialogue with the Chinese authorities and resolving the impasse in Sino-Vatican relations.

A parallel report  from Fides Service, a website run by the Congregation, also spelled out the prefect’s hope for the creation of a “high-level” commission between China and the Vatican.

However, a mainland bishop who is recognized by both the Vatican and Beijing thinks the invitation will yield no result as the government “doesn’t care about the Church or the Vatican. They never want to have sincere dialogue.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said:  “The government will not make any response because its top priority is to maintain stability on the eve of the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and ensure smooth transition of the state leadership.”

However, he added that “Cardinal Filoni’s message certainly encourages those who suffer from persecution and may remind those bishops with vested interests to be more faithful and dutiful.”

Bishop Joseph, who is not recognized by the government, predicts that, if there is a response, it will lack sincerity. “From our past experience we know that the government and the Open Church community talk a lot of hot air.”

Citing Shanghai’s Auxiliary Bishop Ma Daqin’s declaration to quit the Catholic Patriotic Association, he said, “Everyone sings praises to his bravery, but isn’t this actually the most basic expression of our faith?”

He went on to make a veiled challenge to the open community by saying: “How many bishops dare to follow suit?”

In his message, Cardinal Filoni named three obstacles to re-establishing dialogue: the state’s control over the Church, the government’s rigorous control of bishops’ appointments and the interference of illegitimate bishops in episcopal consecrations.

“It is meaningful for the prefect to point out those three stumbling blocks,” said Bishop Joseph, “but he needs to add something more concrete, such as what measures may be taken against those who create stumbling blocks in the future.”

A priest who writes with the pen name Reverse Thinking also expressed reservations. “Cardinal Filoni said the Church in China was never schismatic. But after illicit ordinations taking place repeatedly, many Catholics can no longer distinguish right from wrong,” he wrote.

“The faithful tend to believe their bishops were forced to participate in the illicit ordinations. This became a shield for bishops who pretended to be innocent even though they violated the Canon Law,” he continued.

“So far I haven’t heard any bishop dare to confess his fault in front of the faithful. Instead, they explained they were under pressure to participate in the illicit ordinations in order to win sympathy from the faithful and the Vatican, which offset the effect of the Holy See’s warnings and excommunications, turning them into empty words.”

Father Anthony, a Chinese student in Rome, said it would be wishful thinking to believe that the Vatican’s sincerity can move the Chinese into dialogue, as Chinese state leaders are interested only in the economy, not religion.

“I don’t think the Vatican officials understand China very well,” he said. “They are too far apart. In China, both in the society and the Church, everyone is busy keeping their own rice bowl, particularly those at senior level. So I don’t have any hope on China-Vatican relations in the near future.”

Related report

Vatican offers olive branch to China
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