As a scholar who is not of the Catholic faith, I don’t have a stance on how the Church in China should operate or who should have the authority to appoint Chinese bishops. I just hope that Catholics wish to be good citizens and good people of faith who observe the law, and that the Church teachings would be respected. However, several bishop ordinations that took place recently have triggered a rare disciplinary action taken by the highest governing body of the Universal Church as well as discontent and division among mainland clergy and the faithful. This is very regrettable. Common sense tells us that China pursues the principle of separation of church and state. Catholicism is not a state religion and Church affairs are not state affairs. The country should not run the Church and religious personnel should not hold office in political institutions. Church affairs should be dealt with by the Church itself. As the manager of society, the government has the authority and duty to supervise the Church according to law, but should only limit its supervision to this and no more. Most countries in the world do the same. But in China, there is always an internal force existing in some people’s minds. It does not cherish the new China that was established by the revolutionary predecessors through decades of arduous struggle and bloodshed, nor cherish the brilliant results achieved in reform and open-up policy. It goes against the Marxist principle on religions and reverses the direction of the Chinese revolution. It tries to drag the government into a mire of religious conflicts, doing something no other government in the world would do. I remember a Soviet film that I watched long ago. An episode left me with a profound impression. Enemies who slipped into the Bolsheviks upheld red flag fighting against red flag. Their behavior was more revolutionary than anyone else. They pushed the revolution into extreme leftist fallacies, attempting to overthrow the Soviet regime. The recent incidents related to bishop ordinations damaged the atmosphere of building a harmonious society and interfered with the general situation of maintaining social stability. History has told us repeatedly that the leftist disaster harms the country. Any excuses for “self-electing and self-ordaining bishops,” regardless of “sovereignty” or “religious freedom,” are feeble, laughable and not worth refuting. Though many things become very complex when they happen in China, people have gained some experiences and have simple criteria to judge. Does it need a good timing to avoid domestic and international major events? Is it open and transparent? Can it be interviewed, reported and discussed? Will it enhance our country’s international reputation? Will it receive heartfelt support from the people concerned? And so on. If we judge the recent self-selection and self-ordination of bishops with these perspectives, isn’t it clear at a glance? Some practices in the China Church are difficult for people to understand. For example, putting into the same document two diametrically opposing concepts – “independent and self-governing” and “communion with the Successor of Peter;” the bishops’ conference never convenes a general assembly and its president never declares any statements or responses on major issues such as excommunications and the current chaotic situation. What should fall silent does not keep silent, and what should not keep silent does. In the end, I would like to say that the country belongs to us. Chaos will not disturb the enemy, but it will disturb ourselves. Ren Yanli headed the Christian Studies´ section of the World Religions Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing before retiring in 2005. He was a researcher at the Academy, a think tank of the Chinese government, since the 1980s and obtained a doctorate from the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy, in 2001.
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