ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: June 22, 2016 03:30 AM GMT
Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai declared he quit the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association during his episcopal ordination in 2012. (ucanews.com file photo)
Shanghai's most senior Catholic Bishop, under house arrest for the past four years for denying the Communist government, has dramatically recanted his 2012 decision to resign from the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), sending shockwaves through the Catholic Church in China.
Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin stunned Chinese Catholics when, via his blog, he sung the praises of the government-sanctioned association that is designed to control the church in China. The CPA has no ties with the Vatican and it is shunned by most of the country's estimated 12 million Catholics. The CPA is also accused of corruption by Catholics.
Bishop Ma dramatically resigned from the CPA during his consecration at St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai, declaring he could not work with the state-run Catholic organization that regularly defies the Holy See by ordaining priests and consecrating bishops without its permission.
"For a certain time, I have been deceived by others and [said and] made certain wrong words and deeds about the CPA," Bishop Ma wrote on his blog June 12.
The article he posted was his fifth in a series to commemorate the birth centenary on June 20 of the now late Coadjutor Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, who for decades trod a delicate path of working with the government and the Vatican.
Bishop Jin was then devastated when Bishop Ma, who replaced him, made his unexpected resignation from the CPA.
In his blog, Bishop Ma described his rejection of the CPA during his ordination as "extremely unwise in hindsight, and [he] feels very unsettled in his conscience… It undermined the excellent development of the Shanghai Catholic Church that Bishop Jin has built up," adding that he "hopes to use actual deeds to remedy those faults."
Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai posted his fifth article on his blog to commemorate Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian and stated he regretted quitting the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. (Website image grab)
While the Communist Party is renowned for its coercion of critics, there are few suggestions that this is the case here.
Bishop Ma has been confined to Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai since he declared quitting the CPA. He was stripped off his bishop's title by the Chinese authorities later but this move won him respect from many Catholics.
In recent years Bishop Ma's situation became less restrictive and he was allowed to receive visitors. He was permitted to post articles on his blog and post prayers on Weibo, an equivalent to Twitter, to lead some 50,000 followers each day.
However, his Weibo account was suddenly closed in March after someone reported to the authorities that he celebrated Mass in his bishop garb for a group of Catholics privately, according to local Catholics.
Bishop Ma's latest article has aroused debate among Catholics. Some supported his repentance saying that there is no other way to resolve the deadlock in Shanghai Diocese where various ministries, including the operation of the seminary and the publication house, have been suspended. A huge amount of church funds also went missing into irregular accounts.
"Bishop Ma must be very anxious to get away from his status as he saw other bishops could work openly after concelebrating with an illicit bishop who is not recognized by the Vatican," said a Shanghai Catholic who identified himself as Martin.
"But it is a difficult choice for us Catholics to choose [whether or not to support him] as what he said after all deviates from Pope Benedict XVI's teaching in his letter to Chinese Catholics," said Martin.
Pope Benedict's 2007 letter says that the constitution of the CPA is incompatible with church doctrine as it claims to be above the individual bishops in guiding the Catholic community, a position at odds with official church rules. Pope Benedict also slammed the CPA's professed independence from the Vatican.
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher of the Hong Kong Diocese's Holy Spirit Study Center, told ucanews.com that Bishop Ma must have weighed the advantages and disadvantages before he made his move.
In Lam's opinion, Bishop Ma's blog post was not from an instruction from the Vatican advising him to repent. Lam said he knew that the Vatican once asked Bishop Ma if he would like to leave China but the bishop rejected the idea of taking medical parole in exchange for freedom.
It is also worth noting that Bishop Ma's backflip comes at a time when talks between Chinese authorities and the Vatican have picked up speed, as both sides attempt to seek a compromise that will allow the Vatican to sign off on all ecclesiastical appointments while saving face for the Chinese state, which continues to insist on its rights to make such appointments.
Liu Yuanlong, secretary general for the national CPA, said he had not read Bishop Ma's blog post and was not available for comment.