ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: March 02, 2016 11:14 AM GMT
Chinese worshippers receive communion during Mass in Beijing in this 2012 file photo. The state bodies that oversee the church said they will ordain bishops "under the leadership of the government" and convert unregistered clergy to the open church. (Photo by AFP)
Leaders of the two government-controlled Catholic organizations in China have unsurprisingly endorsed various plans for 2016 that the country's authorities laid out for them in a recent coalition meeting.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a lay organization that oversees the church for the government, and the bishops' conference said after the Feb. 25 meeting that they will ordain bishops "under the leadership of the government" and convert unregistered clergy to the open church, according to an online report.
Clergy in the underground church for decades have refused to register with the open church since one of the requirements is to join the Patriotic Association.
Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, an illicit bishop for being ordained without papal mandate, convened the Beijing meeting with officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) and the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, which controls all official religious activity in China.
The two church bodies also are preparing for the upcoming national Catholic congress expected to be held sometime this year under the SARA’s instruction, the report said.
The previous congress, held in 2010, is believed to be a key reason for a freeze in China-Vatican relations after Beijing pressured clergy to attend the congress and concelebrate Mass with illicit bishops. The congress also elected an illicit bishop as chairman of the bishops' conference.
At the time, the Vatican said the actions of China "manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China."
A Chinese researcher noted that the Buddhist and Daoist associations have already met and elected new leaders, making it likely that the Catholic association would meet too.
"Ma, being a capable person, could have a good chance to be re-elected. Yet, the SARA would make a number of considerations, including the health and willingness of the bishops and whether they would follow the party’s line," the researcher told ucanews.com.
However, a bishop who asked not to be named noted that "whether to convene the congress is decided not by the church but by the high level [of the government], and depends much on the outcome of China-Vatican negotiations."
All the church proposals were outlined in the SARA's work plan published Feb. 2 after its national director meeting held in mid-January.
"The church has no autonomy. It is really a government-run church," said a priest who identified himself as Father Joseph.