A blow to the Patriotic Association: the bishop of Shanghai a prophet and hero
Bishop Ma Daqin, by refusing the imposition of hands from an excommunicated bishop and quitting the Patriotic Association, is upholding the very religious freedom that the Chinese constitution guarantees, but that is betrayed by religious regulations. His rejection of the Patriotic Association has theological reasons (the PA is “incompatible with Catholic doctrine”), but also pastoral and social. For months, pastors are kept at a distance from their dioceses, on a tour of government sponsored banquets while their faithful have to face poverty. The “opportunist” bishops are like tasteless salt. The value of the lay faithful in reconciliation with the pope.
by Bernardo Cervellera
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A prophet and a hero, this is how many Chinese Catholics – and we with them – define the first steps of the newly elected auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, Msgr. Ma Thaddeus Daqin. In just one day, the day of his consecration on July 7, he rejected the imposition of hands by an excommunicated bishop; did not drink from the same cup of the illicit bishop; publicly resigned from the Patriotic Association (PA), considering this an obstacle to his “pastoral and evangelization work.”
The Religious Affairs Bureau did not like this perfectly aimed blow and has confined him to house arrest in the Sheshan seminary, for a forced period of “rest”.
In carrying out these gestures Msgr. Ma simply claimed religious freedom for his commitment as a bishop, a principle which also the Chinese constitution defends. Only that alongside the constitution there are provincial and national regulations that subject the life of Christian community and their pastors to controls, threats, flattery, bribery, putting up every possible obstacle to the commitment to evangelization.
Through these gestures Msgr. Ma also affirms that the ordination of a pastor is not a political issue manipulated by those in power, but a religious act in which the pope and his instructions are to be respected for the sake of truth.
From this point of view, Msgr. Ma has made the same choice which the Church’s unofficial communities and bishops (underground) have been struggling to uphold in the name of safeguarding the freedom to evangelize, risking imprisonment, detention, isolation and marginalization.
But he is a hero because the pollution in the political life of the Church in China had reached dangerous levels. After the Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics – in which the pope declared the principles that underpin the Patriotic Association (to build a Church independent of the Holy See) “incompatible with Catholic doctrine” – The leaders of the Association have launched a campaign to defend their existence. Faced with bishops who affirmed their loyalty to the pope, they began to choose bishops easy to compromise with the Party, engaged in politics, government representatives. At the ordination of bishops approved of by the pope, they began to impose the participation of excommunicated bishops; they also began to force bishops in communion with the Pope to participate in illicit ordinations – those without Papal approval. All this to say that the license of orthodoxy or legitimacy does not belong to the Roman pope, but the presidents and secretaries of the Patriotic Association.
Counteracting this miasma of ambiguities and equivicocies, the prophetic gesture of Daqin Ma has arisen, like “a ray of sunshine in a dark sky.”
Bishop Ma is the first official bishop to resign from the PA and many Chinese Catholics hope that others will follow him.
Moreover, being a member of the PA has now become counterproductive, for religious reasons. First of all ideological ones and then theological ones: a Church separated from the pope is not the Catholic Church, but just another Protestant church which is likely – as has happened many times in history – to become a sect increasingly emptied of its spiritual character and which survives only thanks to the good will of political power.
Belonging to the PA is also an obstacle to pastoral work: the bishops are obliged to continue to travel, to attend meetings and formation programs, staying away from their dioceses to for months at a time, to hear the empty and boring theories on the control of religion, the benevolent power of ‘the Association, forced to express “profound gratitude” to the god-association that allows them to survive. When they finally get to be in their diocese, their every encounter, or personal relationship is authenticated, verified, registered, permitted or cancelled by the PA.
Being a PA prop has also become socially embarrassing. While the Chinese people suffer from a deep economic crisis, with inflation making it increasingly difficult to scrap together a meal every day, PA secretaries and presidents are famous for their spending and largesse at the expense of the government and the diocese, in hotels luxury, with banqueting facilities for up to 24-course meals, of refined and expensive foods, while in the diocese, especially those in the rural areas, it is a struggle to procure clean water or provide a minimum of medical care to the poor.
A statistical report by the same government denounces that every year Party members spend around 31.5 billion Euros on banquets, a sum capable of feeding at least one hundred million people for a whole year. Faced with such a corruption of political power, it is also convenient to the bishops to distance themselves in order to fulfill their mission placing themselves of the side of Christ and the poor.
Bishop Ma’s decision is prophetic and destined to make history. It is probable that some bishops remain attached to the PA. It’s where they get their chauffeur driven car from, their new Episcopal palaces, money, fame, treats: the famous “opportunists” bishops of which Benedict XVI has once spoken. We fear that these are only “tasteless salt” who serve no other purpose than to be walked upon.
It is worthwhile remembering that even now many faithful are putting pressure on their bishops to pay more attention to living their Episcopal ministry, rather than their political role. In the years after Mao Zedong, the lay faithful forced many fearful bishops to contact the Holy See to be reunited – after decades of ambiguity – with the One Catholic Church. Even today, the lay faithful demonstrate their faith and their love for Christ and the bishops deserting masses where the pastors are illegal and transmigrating into other dioceses loyal to the spiritual bond with Benedict XVI.