Mainland Chinese Catholics at the Easter vigil on Holy Saturday
Church-in-China experts believe the tone of the recent communiqué issued by the Vatican was designed to leave the door open for dialogue with Beijing and to allow those who have done wrong to the universal Church to show repentance.
In Beijing, retired analyst Ren Yanli described the Vatican’s Commission on the Church in China’s communiqué as “unexpectedly mild.” But it is understandable that the commission’s authority is limited to Church affairs, rather than Church-state relations and that the Vatican may have its own thoughts on the “post-Chengde ordination” and “post-congress” eras, he said.
The former analyst of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank, said Pope Benedict XVI’s letter in 2007 has already stated the Church’s position clearly to let every bishop judge and act according to their conscience.
“The Vatican may be in a dilemma: Wanting to punish those who participated in the illicit ordination, while at the same time worrying if the punishment would hurt the Church itself.”
Ren believed “self-election and self-ordination” of bishops will be possible in the future. While the Holy See will most likely continue to condemn it, the most vital thing is for mainland bishops not to be ambiguous anymore over their faith.
“They can no longer forgive themselves after attending an illicit ordination and then violate Church principles again, or they would damage their faith by and by. If they think a principle is right, they should stick to it,” said Ren.
Hong Kong-based observer Kwun Ping-hung noted that the communiqué apparently laid particular stress on the Vatican appealing to China for dialogue. It is shown in points 3 to 5, which touch lightly on sensitive issues of major concern to the outside world, with the most evident being the point concerning the Catholic congress last December.
This may bring a positive result of leaving the door open for future China-Vatican dialogue in which to seek consensus, he said.
However, a negative outcome is that the communiqué hardly helps Chinese Catholics in the “open” and “underground” communities resolve their confusion and the difficulties they face when their principles of faith clash with political will. This situation will probably last for a fairly long time, he said.
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher at Hong Kong diocese’s Holy Spirit Study Centre, said the communiqué carries a caring and guiding tone with the hope that those who did wrong in the China Church will repent and return to the universal Church.
The commission has expressed deep concern on the Chengde ordination and national congress, while maintaining hope regarding the future of the China Church, he added.
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