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Why were Chinese bishops absent from sex abuse summit?

Code of silence is no longer acceptable when the Church is confronted with uncomfortable truths

Father John Lo

Father John Lo

Updated: March 19, 2019 05:07 AM GMT
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Why were Chinese bishops absent from sex abuse summit?

Chinese clergy attend Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing on Christmas Eve, 2018. The world’s most populous country had no representatives at a recent Vatican summit on protecting minors from sexual abuse. (Photo by Wang Zhao/AFP)

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The Vatican summit on protection of minors in the Catholic Church last month was attended by presidents of bishops’ conferences, superior generals and laypeople who are experts in the field of sexual abuse.

No bishops from China were invited, however. No one is sure about the reason why there was no representative from the world’s most populous country with 1.42 billion people.

One would guess that perhaps there is no abuse of minors happening in China or that China has done so well in the prevention of child abuse that the country is not invited to learn from the summit.

It is certainly good to hear that no abuse is taking place in the huge country. Yet this cannot justify China’s absence. Church personnel from Africa also claim there are no such cases in their countries, yet African bishops were invited.

If China has done so well in the prevention of abuse, it should have been invited to join the summit, not to learn from it but to share its experiences.

The Church in China has a great challenge when it comes to the protection of minors as clerics literally do not even have the chance to touch a child because the communist regime has banned minors from entering religious venues. When the Church does not even have a chance to meet children, how is there a chance of protecting them?

Indeed, physical assaults and sexual abuse of children do happen occasionally in kindergartens. The Church does not speak about such cases. She does not even have the courage to speak a single word against the injustice that takes place in society.

When injustice happens to the Church, its leaders often huddle beneath the management of civil authorities. Not trying to resist, they let the authorities continue to bully. They do not stop society from corrupting and this is seen as a failure of the Church’s social teaching.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta told the Vatican summit that bishops returning to their dioceses should be more aware of their responsibilities and draw up procedures. Referring to the denials that are the usual response to abuse allegations, the archbishop said it is now important to move away from “the code of silence” because silence is unacceptable and encourages complicity.

I sincerely wish that the archbishop’s remarks will influence Chinese bishops in their reflections, particularly regarding their responsibilities. A bishop is not only a title but is also a pastor responsible for his flock, God and the Church.

When bishops face a problem, they should not blindly follow the code of silence, nor should they choose to cover up. A bishop is not a politician, and the Church is not a political entity. Faced with injustices, bishops should stand up and denounce wrongdoings.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago told the summit that candidates for priesthood and religious life should go through proper screening to exclude those who may abuse minors. This suggestion should also apply in mainland China to take away those who are going to violate, and those who have already violated, the law of the Church. There are clergymen who have abused women, married women and fathered children.

Another reason for the absence of Chinese bishops in Rome was possibly the unclosed gap between China and the Vatican. A pardoned bishop was among the two Chinese prelates who attended the Synod of Bishops last October after the signing of the Vatican-China provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops. Yet the Chinese regime has not stopped its suppression and has even exerted greater control of religious affairs.

As details of the agreement have not been made public, it has become a focus for many around the world. The concrete content of this discreet agreement is very much desired so that a conclusion regarding bilateral relations can be drawn. The distance between China and the Vatican, and the result of their negotiations, are highlighted by the absence of Chinese participants at the abuse summit.

All clerics in mainland China should reflect on the summit. This is not only about the prevention of child abuse but also an issue of living up to the vow of celibacy.

Father John Lo is a Catholic priest in China.

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