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Senior official hits back at Vatican criticism

China official says Vatican should stop "playing politics"

Lu Guocun, former head of Guangdong province's Catholic Patriotic Association Lu Guocun, former head of Guangdong province's Catholic Patriotic Association
  • Alessandro Speciale, Guangzhou
  • China
  • August 14, 2012
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A senior official at China's government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) has rebuffed Vatican claims that the Communist regime does not recognize the distinction between Church and state. In response, he has accused the Vatican of “playing politics” and overlooking the faith life of Chinese Catholics.

Now in his 70s, Lu Guocun headed the CPA in Guangdong province for almost three decades, served as national vice-president and is now honorary president of the provincial CPA. He talked to ucanews.com amid the tense atmosphere that followed the episcopal ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai.

During the rite, the newly ordained bishop announced his intention to leave the CPA and has since reportedly been in a “retreat” at Shanghai's Sheshan Seminary. His case attracted global attention, to the displeasure of Beijing authorities.

Lu said that Bishop Ma's resignation was his personal decision. “If he wants to do a show, he can do it,” he added, suggesting that it was the glare of publicity surrounding Bishop Ma's announcement that irked the Chinese authorities.

Referring to the recent controversies over bishop appointments and the participation of illicit bishops in Vatican-sanctioned episcopal ordinations, Lu said that it is the Holy See that is responsible for the division of the China Church since the late 1950s, when it threatened to  excommunicate self-elected and ordained bishops, despite mediation assisted by the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.

In his opinion, Rome's stance has not changed since that time. “The Vatican is playing more politics than China,” he said.

However, Lu stressed his conviction that “the Pope is never against the Chinese people or the Communist government” but he is misled by “his assistants and aides” who “have different ideas, don't like the Communist party and are ready to do anything against it.”

He added that if the Vatican were to be willing to talk seriously with China, an agreed “mechanism” for the selection of bishops, like the one currently in place in Vietnam, could be found. Vietnam recently opened diplomatic relations with the Vatican and in recent years both sides have partnered a system that allows the appointment of bishops from an agreed list of candidates.

Lu went on to assert that the CPA's original role in the 50s – acting as a bridge between the Church and the Communist leaders – is still valid in today's much-changed China. He cited the State resources that the CPA, thanks to its official links, is capable of funneling towards the Church, for activities such as church restorations and pastoral activities.

The restoration in 2003-2005 of Guangzhou's Cathedral, for example, was largely paid for by municipal authorities thanks to the CPA's intercession.

“The CPA is a social organization, and for the government to deal with a social organization is simpler than with a religion,” he said.

It is also thanks to the CPA, he added, that the Church has been able to “grow” and “change the mind of the people.” But he admitted that despite an “improvement” in the relation of Catholics with the government, there hasn't been a “big success” in the field of evangelization.

The Church still has an “image” problem among the Chinese people, being largely perceived as a “foreign religion” serving “colonial powers,” he explained.

Talking more on the subject of colonial attitudes, he pointed out that only the bridging associations for the Catholic and Protestant Churches bear “Patriotic” in their names, while the Buddhist, Taoist and Muslim associations do not.

For Lu, “the Vatican rejected the CPA first” but it needs to “put down its bias and continue to talk” if it wants to help the growth of the Church in China. “The CPA has always been working for the good of the Church, helping - among other things - the government to improve its management on religions. We don't want to be blamed by the people.”

Related reports:

New rules take on added meaning in wake of Shanghai ordination

Ordination probe ends, prelate still in seminary

Excommunication for illicit Harbin bishop

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