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Rome, how must we express our faith?

The dereliction of duty by some Vatican officials has overturned Church practices in China

  • Guanshan Kanwu, penname of a mainland Church leader
  • China
  • April 13, 2011
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Ambiguous stances and contradictory instructions from the Vatican have left many Catholics in the Church in China feeling perplexed for many years.

Many faithful and priests in the “open” Church community are at loss as to which direction to take after the illicit ordination in Chengde and the Catholic congress that were held against the wishes of the Vatican.

The “underground” community is also disappointed by the Vatican’s “negligence” which they believe has led to the current situation.

The following opinion was sent to ucanews.com by an underground Church leader. It is an edited excerpt of the original Chinese version.

Rome, how should we express our faith correctly?

The Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics was issued almost four years ago. In which direction should the “underground” Church community, which is loyal to the Pope, go? How can we correctly express our faith?

There are few bishops in the “open” Church community who are really brave enough to express their faith and loyalty to the Pope. Many bishops get the approval of Rome while they are also leaders of the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which the Pope’s letter stated is a position incompatible to Church doctrine. Such dual stances are a contradiction.

Approval from Rome seems to be becoming dispensable.

Despite an explicit note in a communiqué from the Vatican’s China Commission in March 2010, the Vatican-approved open bishops still participated in the Eight National Congress of Catholic Representatives, and helped the CPA elect its new national leaders.

Bishop Wei Jingyi commented that there have been serious flaws in China’s religious policy in the past two decades. But this is not an issue for the open community. The policy of Rome has given a lot to them. Bishops are recognized as legitimate while they hold a CPA post. It is the victory not only for the CPA but also for the authorities.

The underground community does not feel there is anything concrete for them. Its feeling is: Rome seems to be working for the CPA and seems to be killing the loyal Church: recommendations on bishop candidates are shelved and issues are not handled in a timely way.

Church experts mostly contact and support the open community when they come to China. They visit the city churches and see faithful praying fervently. They hear the CPA singing the praises of the government’s religious policies.

The underground community has no church buildings for them to see. Their Masses are held privately in laypeople’s homes. Their interactions are limited to asking the visitors to deliver letters asking for Vatican instructions.

The fact that the CPA remains in control -- upholding the principles of independence, autonomy and self-management as well as democratic management of the Church -- has obstructed normal Church development. However, these experts do not seem aware of this.

These experts and some officials in Rome mistakenly believe the CPA is no longer a problem in their exchanges with CPA people and so have promoted a structural unity under the CPA.

Many Catholics do not know how far such “unity” should go.

Should the China Church return to the universal Church or should it embrace the CPA with open arms? Impractical instructions not only create confusion in several dioceses but also affect normal Church development.

When some bishops were instructed that other bishops holding a CPA title were in full communion with the Vatican, they followed along by setting up a CPA structure when it was not necessary in the past. Some even applied to join the CPA on their own initiative.

The dereliction of duty of some Vatican officials has overturned completely Church practices and canons that the underground community has tried desperately to safeguard, indirectly helping the CPA to nurture.

Adopting compromised strategies without a bottom line has laid landmines for the Church. When practices become empty talk, we cannot be surprised by what has happened and what will happen.

The underground community looks on Rome as its father. It reports and asks for instructions on different issues. However, some Vatican officials responsible for the China Church do not deal with them and let problems pile up.

It is terrible bureaucracy rather than a brotherhood.

Are the problems for the underground community really so complicated?

Although the open community has support from the government and some officials in Rome, their problems are the same in seriousness, complexity and hazards. These include leaving the priesthood, co-habitation, corruption, fighting, gambling and other vices.

They lay the blame on the government saying: “They are forced to join the ‘self-election and self-ordination’ of bishops.”

They say they joined the Catholic congress for the sake of Church development. They protect each other regarding their personal problems and of course, do not report to or ask for instructions from Rome. They only relate good things if they have to report.

If one follows the Fides News Agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, one discovers the seriousness of the problem: Most reports sing the praises of the open community and thus mislead Vatican officials who deal with China affairs.

The “experts” failed to alert the Vatican on the seventh Catholic congress when the majority of participants cast their votes for the CPA and had no profound reflection regarding the three illicit ordinations in 2006.

Even after the Pope’s 2007 letter, stated clearly that the independence principle is incompatible to our faith, nothing changed.

We can see the thinking of these Church officials when bishop candidates since 2007 all come from the CPA. We really wonder when the list of candidates is presented to the Pope; does anyone tell him of the posts they hold in the CPA?

While Catholics were shocked to see Bishop Francis An Shuxin installed in the open community and join the CPA, the Vatican responded only with a letter of comfort. When the situation deteriorates, it simply uses a communiqué to draw a line under it. Facing enquiries from the faithful and clergy of Baoding, a Vatican clerk even said: “No need to reply.”

The seriousness of the problem is reflected in another aspect.

Every year the Holy See has instructions for the China Church. But when there is no implementation or effects, it is easy to see where the problems lie -- either with Rome’s implementation or with the Chinese bishops.

It was unsurprising to see the eighth national congress not only complete the transfer of leadership, but also elect a Vatican-approved bishop as the chair of the CCPA, a slap in the face for the Pope.

Situation of the underground Church

As it develops, bishops who do not join the CPA become heterogeneous. Even Vatican Radio has followed the line of Chinese authorities, calling them “underground bishops” as in the Chinese report on the death of Bishop Hu Daguo. How thorough and undisciplined such compromise has become for Rome to deny its own authority!

If Rome continues to work this way, one can imagine that, in the near future, all bishop candidates in China will have a post in the CPA, without taking into account that there are more faithful in the underground community. Appointing bishops who are not CPA members is wishful thinking.

Then these Vatican-approved bishops who hold a post in the CPA could legitimately exercise their ministry that Rome gives to them. And if any priest refuses to join the CPA, their bishops could suspend them from hearing confessions or managing a parish.

How ironic it would be if the underground community in the end is buried by the hands of Rome after having gone through many years of persecution!

Rome, please tell your people, how they should express their faith correctly? Is the unity that you push intended to make us join the CPA? If this is our fate then tell us what our struggles in the past have all been for?

“Guanshan Kanwu” is the penname of an underground Church leader. He hopes the Vatican will listen to the voice of the long-neglected underground community. “Guanshan Kanwu” in Chinese means looking at a mountain through the haze of a fog.

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