Will China Buy Our Silence About Persecution of Catholics?

In May of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued a Pastoral Letter to Clergy, Religious, and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China. There the Holy Father expressed his affection for the people and his solidarity with them. He explained the proper relationships within the diocese, between the dioceses and the State, and the indispensable link between the local Churches and the Church Universal. The Pope offered encouragement for unity and a guide for evangelization.

The challenging circumstances for the work of the Church in China have been intensified because of a separation that has existed between a state-supervised Patriotic Catholic Association, China’s only legal public form of Catholicism, said to have about 5 Million members, and an “illegal,” “underground church,” believed to be the home for perhaps 10 million clergy, Religious and laity, who have sought to maintain a more unfettered communion with the Vatican. It is acknowledged that many members of the Patriotic Association, bishops included, have attempted to keep ties with Rome.

In his letter of four years ago, the Holy Father seemed to succeed in establishing a conciliatory note, while clearly outlining vital principles of religious freedom, and the Church’s requisite foundation for governance and pastoral action. The Vatican was able to build some level of communications with the Peoples’ Republic, giving rise to what has been, for the last few years, a more active and helpful collaboration in the selection of bishops – within the Patriotic Association – on the Mainland.

As 2010 was drawing to a close, the mood of cooperation collapsed as the Patriotic Catholic Association began forcibly gathering bishops in order to bring them to Beijing for an assembly, the intended purpose of which was to elect a new national president of the Patriotic Association and president of the council of Chinese bishops. A number of bishops resisted and fled; others refused to participate in Masses that were to be part of the assembly.

An illicit ordination of a bishop – one in which there was no mandate from the Holy See or permission from the Holy Father – took place in November of 2010; another a few weeks ago on June 29, 2011, and another last week. In the Vatican’s daily Press Release of July 15, Vatican Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. spoke of the Pope’s “sadness and concern at the latest illegitimate episcopal ordination in China” which, he said, damages “the unity of the universal Church.”

July 14, 2011, “at Shantou in the region of Guandong Fr. Joseph Huang Bingzhang was ordained a bishop without pontifical mandate. … A number of bishops who are in communion with the Pope were obliged to attend yesterday’s ceremony.” Shantou already had a bishop, and the “new bishop” had been cautioned several times by the Holy See not to accept Episcopal ordination.

Following the June 29 ordination, the Holy See released a declaration highlighting how a bishop ordained “without the papal mandate, and hence illegitimately, has no authority to govern the diocesan Catholic community, and the Holy See does not recognize him as the bishop of that diocese.” In a release of July 18, the Vatican formally confirmed the sanctions against the illegitimate bishops, expressed support for the conscientious resistance of those who remain faithful to the Holy See, and asked for a cessation of the hurtful actions, “The Holy Father, having learned of these events, once again deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible”.

Some news sites suggest that, after the forced elections of the Patriotic Associations, in which ballots were reported to have only one name, as many as ten ordinations of new bishops are expected.

Aside from the concern over the kidnapping and arrest of bishops compelling them to participate in fraudulent elections, there are grave implications for all Catholics in China who, whether within the Patriotic Association or in the so-called ‘illegal’ or underground church fear more interference in Church life, and a renewal of reprisals from years past.

According to a July 17 CNN story, leaders in China have, in turn, accused the Vatican of interfering in its religious affairs. Last November the U.S. State Department listed China as one of eight countries of “particular concern” on religious freedom. Specifically the U.S. accused China of persecuting followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet and Uyghur Muslims in western China. While President Barak Obama met last week with the Dalai Lama, apparently no public mention has yet been made by the administration about actions against Catholics.

In his July 17 blog post, Deacon Keith Fournier of Catholic Online (www.catholic.org) lamented the silence of the U.S. and other western governments about these abuses against human rights and religious freedom in China. “We should ask ourselves the following question; with our growing economic reliance and dependence upon the Regime in China: Are we sacrificing our fundamental obligation to defend human freedom and human rights because we depend on the economic assistance of a repressive regime?”

At one time we might have insisted that China’s desires to be accepted and welcomed as a partner with the West must be met by an insistence that it respects this fundamental human right of religious expression and organization. Now we must be careful that our need to come, hat in hand, to China in the economic sphere doesn’t require us to be silent about such significant restraints on human dignity.

For our Catholic brothers and sisters on the Mainland who have endured so much to hold on to an authentic Catholic faith, this is hardly an intellectual exercise. They need our support in prayer and political clout. Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for your children. St. Joseph, defender of justice, pray for us.


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October 22, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph