Published July 21, 2017
The Chinese Communist Party's top leader in charge of religion has made it clear that Beijing intends to retain a tight grip on the Catholic Church on the 60th anniversary of the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the elite seven-man Politburo Standing Committee and chair of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told members of the open church community "to ensure that the leadership of the Chinese Catholic Church is held firmly in the hands of those who love the nation and the religion." Yu was speaking to about 100 bishops, priests, nuns and lay leaders at an event commemorating the CCPA anniversary at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 19. His comments come amid continuing talks between Beijing and the Vatican
about the normalization of the appointment of bishops, the first step in a path that could lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations. But negotiations appear to have slowed in recent months due to an impasse over the fate of a handful of Beijing-appointed bishops. During his speech, Yu also encouraged church leaders to "implement with self-awareness the basic direction of religious works," and "always to insist on the direction of Sinicization of religion
." The main event was preceded by a ceremony presided over by Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). Wang affirmed the results of the CCPA over the past 60 years, noting that the organization has walked the path of adaptation to a socialist society and the principles of independence and self-management. Wang laid out four goals for the church: to learn from the guidance given by the Party's secretary general Xi Jinping and "insist on a correct political direction;" to deepen the democratic management of the church; to strengthen patriotism and to implement social responsibility through conducting charitable works. Organization that split the church
The CCPA was established on Aug. 2, 1957 by the National Congress of Catholic Representatives, which also stands above the bishops' conference, an organization that also answers to Beijing and not Rome. The government claimed the CCPA is a "bridge" between the church and the government. The Vatican does not recognize all three national church bodies and regards the CCPA as being incompatible with church doctrine as its constitution advocates an independent church principle. The establishment of the CCPA also split China's 10 million Catholics. Following the Vatican's stance, the underground church community rejected the organization and many clergy and laypeople suffered for this. Many laypeople despise the CCPA for its control of the church and alleged misuse of church property.
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But the division is far from black and white as many clergy in the open community also show resistance to the CCPA but believe collaboration offers space for church development. In the July 19 ceremony, some Vatican-approved bishops did not wear their bishops' dress as a subtle way to show that the meeting was not a church event. Commemoration instead of celebration
Father Shanren, a pen name of a Chinese priest-commentator, pointed out that the ceremony was held in a low-profile manner without using the word "celebration" but "commemoration" possibly because of the delicate state of China-Vatican relations
. "Though the bishops need to be there, there was not much propaganda for the event," said Father Shanren, adding that there was a pre-event commemoration for late Father Wang Liangzuo of southwestern Sichuan province on July 7 that was also held in a relatively low-profile manner. Sichuan is notable for having some of the earliest proponents of patriotic movements in Christian churches, with Father Wang being the first priest to call for an independent church, declaring a total break with so-called imperialist powers, including the Vatican in 1950.