Father Joseph Shih, the former head of the China section of Vatican Radio, has sent a message to Pope Francis saying that the church needs to have "healthy realism" in its dealings with the Chinese government. Father Shih also explained that tolerance was not the same as compromise, so the Holy See should not be opposed to Chinese authorities as it continued talks aimed, firstly, at normalizing the appointment of bishops. In recent decades the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Vatican have jointly appointed some bishops while others have only either Vatican or government approval. "Compromise gives something away to the other party, up to a level that the other finds satisfying. Tolerance gives nothing away, nor does it require that the other give (anything) away," Father Shih told La Civilta Cattolica
editor-in-chief Father Antonio Spadaro, in an interview for the Rome-based periodical regarded as a window into the thoughts of the Vatican. The Vatican's diplomats, under Pope Francis, in 2014 began detailed discussions with China's Communist rulers that have now been through about half-a-dozen rounds. "The Chinese government is communist. This is something that won't change for a long time. So the only possible relationship we can have is that of reciprocal tolerance," Father Shih said. He added that reciprocal tolerance between the church in China and the Chinese government needed a premise: that "the Holy See not be opposed to the Chinese government." Otherwise, the church in China would be forced to choose between them and if the church chooses the Holy See, he said, this would be intolerable to the Chinese government. "We could ask if the Holy See were not opposed to the Chinese government, would the latter tolerate the church in China?" Father Shih said. "We can only say that the Catholic Church in China exists and functions. This means that tolerance is already experienced in some form." The priest also interpreted the case of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, in the light of this "healthy realism." The prelate was put under house arrest shortly after his ordination, which was approved by both Rome and Beijing. Immediately after his ordination as Bishop of Shanghai, one of the most important posts in the Chinese church, Bishop Ma renounced his leadership role in and membership of the CCPA. Since then, he has recanted, describing his dramatic move as a mistake. "He has not changed direction, nor has he surrendered," Father Shih said. "I think rather that he has 'reawakened.'" He explained that instead of loving the China of Confucius or of Chiang Kai-shek like many people who had an abstract idea of the country, Bishop Ma loved China as it is today's China, which was governed by the Communist Party. "So he no longer believes that the church has to necessarily oppose the Chinese government. Rather he has understood that to exist and play a part in today, the church must at least make itself tolerable in the eyes of the government," Father Shih said. He also pointed out that Bishop Ma concelebrating with the "illegitimate" Bishop Zhan Silu in Mindong was an effort to reconcile with the Chinese government.
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"Even if he is currently under house arrest, he is trying to engage positively with his government," Father Shih said. "I hope the Holy See will sustain him and allow him to continue trying." The priest also emphasized that St. Pope John Paul II during his pontificate insisted on the reconciliation between the church in China and the Chinese government. Now Bishop Ma was seeking to make it happen. He also urged going beyond prejudices and appearances. If we did it, he believed that we would discover the fundamental values of socialism dreamt by the Chinese government were compatible with the Gospel we believed in. He also said that it could not be denied there were distinct communities in the church in China. But their disputes were due to expressions of a conflict of religious interests instead of differences in faith. Moreover, they have started to reconcile with each other after repeated calls from St. Pope John Paul II. "The episcopal ordination of Bishop Xing Wenzhi, in 2005, is eloquent proof," Father Shih said. He pointed out that those who opposed dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese government exaggerated the differences between the "official church" and the "clandestine church" to hinder the ongoing dialogue. For the future dialogue between the church and the Chinese government, the priest is optimistic since he believes whatever way human history proceeds, it never becomes unconnected from the salvific plan of God. To read "The Church and the Chinese Government: An interview with Fr. Joseph Shih" by Antonio Spadaro, SJ in full click here.