Rethinking China-Vatican accords (with a touch of irony)

Rethinking China-Vatican accords (with a touch of irony)

By Il prete eremita del Nord (华北的山人神父)
8/29/16

There are various discrepancies in discussions on relations between China and the Holy See. Despite the fact that there is still no public agreement, many commentators hotly discuss it as if it were common gossip. Even the bishops are often reduced to mere puppets; the lack of mutual trust between the two parties; the Taiwan issue: these are some of the problems outlined by the informed author, who calls himself “the hermit priest of the North” and is a very famous priest-blogger in China.

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Beijing (AsiaNews) – An in depth analysis of the China-Vatican issue, with an accurate view of issues such as freedom, security, ambiguity, and with an added touch of humor. The author is a very famous priest-blogger in China, who calls himself “Huabeide Shanren Shenfu” (The hermit priest in the North). In this article he frequently cites “the opinion of Card. Tong “or that of “Card. Zen”, referring to articles published by AsiaNews a few weeks ago: “Card. Tong: Communion of the Church in China with the Universal Church” and “Card. Zen: My concerns over China-Holy See dialogue and repercussions on Chinese Church”.

Some friends asked me for my opinion over different viewpoints expressed on the China-Vatican dialogue. I always fear my view may not be correct because I, just as the other commenters, am not sitting at the negotiating table. So far, no agreement has officially come out of the negotiating chamber. Or rather, as some commenters pointed out, there is no agreement at all. As an outsider of this talk, whether an agreement is possible to be reached or not is not my position to say.

That being the case, heated debates on the “China-Vatican talk” by outsiders are still going on, just like flames fanning into the sky. This situation made me think of a hotly discussed entertainment news of Wang Baoqiang, a male star in China, who broke up with his wife Ma Rong.

On the matter of China-Vatican dialogue, we should not see ourselves as outsiders, as if the matter does not concern us. However, one thing is very certain, that is, the China-Vatican talk. After all, we are outsiders because, we, Catholics living in China, are always represented, and this time we are even represented by both parties. At any given time, we just have to recognize “the result, the very fact” and that is enough.

Currently, Cardinal Joseph Zen’s “pessimistic view” should be attached with importance, whereas Cardinal John Tong’s “optimistic view” has to be put aside for the time being. Why is it so? The reason is that the society and the Church in mainland China lack the necessary independence and freedom. As we see, the freedom used to be enjoyed by the society and the Church in Hong Kong is now getting less and less day after day. Given such a reality, a negotiation urging for “freedom of religion, independence and autonomy” does not seem to manifest its integrity.

Hence, the cool-headed ones are sitting on the fence towards the current China-Vatican talks. Now, the majority of the Catholics in China are taking a wait-and-see approach. Other than that, most of them do not know what they can do or are supposed to do.

To pray? Just pray!

Cardinal Zen, citing Cardinal Tong’s article about certain people’s “criticism and strong reproaches” against the Pope, said the comment were not about him (Cardinal Zen), but the voices from the Church in China. Suddenly, I realized that the Church in China ought to be a “silent Church” and just needs to wait until the China-Vatican agreement is announced. Then, respectfully they will cheer “Long live”.

Undeniably, the Catholics in China, like onlookers, may not be able give weighty and respectable opinions, and oftentimes give in to gossip like that which surrounded Wang Baoqiang’s breakup with his wife, filled with hostile, abusive and meaningless criticisms and “reproaches”. In a way, the social morbid in China is also reflected in the Catholics in China’s reactions. As their voices have long been suppressed, now they finally have got a chance to burst out their emotions, and all swarmed around and began to speak.

In China, it is a society without justice, just like the Church in China lives without justice. When we criticize Wang Baoqiang’s wife Ma Rong who has an affair, we would be like standing on a summit of a moral highland. Similarly, when we blame the pope, we can win compassion from the Church. All in all, the Chinese merely want to do things that will not endanger themselves, be it just or unjust! In Lianyun port, Jiangsu province, protesters took to the streets against the construction of a nuclear waste station. Outsiders of the city believed that supporting the protesters may cause themselves trouble, and continued to gossip about Wang Baoqiang’s marriage scandal.

Some Catholics have been willing to be a puppet of the Chinese government for decades. Most of those who do not want the Church to be a puppet, however, dare not criticize the Chinese government’s unwarranted interferences because it will endanger themselves and bring trouble to his own diocese. On one hand, some have crazily criticized the pope to give concessions and soften his stand; on the other hand, the rest are like Bishop Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar: no one is wounded!

Actually what is the content of the China-Vatican talk? On the authority of appointing bishops, the Holy See fundamentally will not hand it over because this is a specific symbol of the oneness, catholicity and universality of the Catholic Church. Insofar, the Chinese government has not shown a great wisdom of considering the “giving up” of that authority is “reasonable”. Instead, it thinks in a foolish way that by “seizing with hands, then putting into mouth” is superb for this country to demonstrate its authority.

With this mind-set, the China-Vatican agreement is seemingly reached through using the eight illegitimate Chinese bishops as a bargaining chip in exchange with the release of the detained bishops and priests in China and an inclusion of most Chinese bishops into the “bishops’ conference”. This move, for the Holy See, is extremely dangerous because it can hardly withdraw the decision, whereas the Chinese government is far too easy to tear up an agreement.

On the issue of Taiwan, same, if the Holy See wants to please Beijing, it cannot re-establish an apostolic nunciature in Beijing, but has to transfer the apostolic nunciature in Taipei directly to Beijing. It may cause the Church in Taiwan to have psychological effects of being abandoned, just as the underground Church is undergoing. This will become another disquieting element!

For that reason, Cardinal Tong’s vision of optimism is now useful. It is hoped that Beijing is serious, responsible and authoritative in keeping its words so that the Church in China is assured of full freedom of religion. Without special conditions, the Holy See delegate can be stationed in Beijing and is entrusted with the necessary authority to handle the Church affairs in China. Unlike the existing Chinese bishops, the Holy See delegate to Beijing will not be another puppet, a high-level one!

Who can guarantee the Holy See delegate will be given all these assurances? Cardinal Tong’s article shows that nobody can guarantee, not even him. His optimism is solely a vision!

No matter how difficult the negotiation is, the Holy See is aware of its responsibility to continue to talk with China. One year, 10 years, 100 years. Chinese Communist leaders promised of the party’s direction of “not wavering for 100 years”. A century later, it may shake!
I think the Holy See will not easily concede its bottom line. Some of the eight illegitimate bishops have hastily told their parishioners that their problems have been resolved, and requested them to return to work! However, the Holy See has not released the content of the agreement. It must be cautiously examining the situation, and will have to think more.

The China-Vatican agreement seems to be, as Cardinal Tong said, only an agreement, and not establishing diplomatic relations. Yet, the Holy See must be pondering where the China-Vatican ties are heading after signing the agreement? In the post-agreement times, if those bishops and priests who cannot openly work now will continue to stay underground, the Vatican-appointed bishops forced to ordain the illegitimate ones, what are they going to do?

With such concerns, perhaps it is because we do not trust our own government. Frankly speaking, we ought to trust our own country, but even if we try, does the Holy See really trust it?

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