In the appointment of future bishops, it will be the Chinese episcopal conference that proposes the candidates. But on the condition that they also join the thirty “underground” bishops whom Beijing does not yet recognize, and that the bishops without papal approval be removed
[“A diplomat who says “yes” means “maybe”, a diplomat who says “maybe” means “no”, and a diplomat who says “no”
is no diplomat doesn’t mean it.” ― Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a laicized French bishop, politician and diplomat, who served the French monarchy before the Revolution (as a bishop), the various regimes during the Revolution, Napoleon, and the monarchy after the Restoration (although laicized in 1801 for his apostasy during the Revolution and his womanizing dating back to pre-Revolutionary times but reconciled with the Church before his death in 1838)]
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 26, 2016 – In mid-September, cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin held a meeting with all the apostolic nuncios gathered in Rome to celebrate the jubilee.
And during this meeting, as in other informal conversations, when asked about the status of negotiations with China he gave them some information of great interest.
He confirmed that the negotiation underway concerns only the question of the appointment of bishops, not the reestablishment of diplomatic relations as well, and that the discussion between the two sides is currently taking place between mid-level officials of equal rank: for the Holy See, the undersecretary for relations with states, Antoine Camilleri, and the undersecretary of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, Tadeusz Wojda.
In Parolin’s judgment, it is noteworthy that for the first time since the advent of communism China is willing to let the Holy See have a role in the appointment of bishops.
Since it has been in power, in fact, the Chinese communist party has wanted to set up a Church submissive to itself and separate from Rome, with bishops appointed by its own exclusive warrant and ordained without the approval of the pope, subjugated to a “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” that Benedict XVI called “irreconcilable” with Catholic doctrine.
An “official” Church, therefore, on the brink of schism. Interwoven with an “underground” Church led by bishops not recognized by Beijing and absolutely faithful to the pope, who however pay the full price of clandestinity: oppression, surveillance, arrest, abduction.
Out of a little more than a hundred bishops active in China today – who are not named in the Annuario Pontificio – there are thirty “underground.”
The “official” bishops who were ordained illegitimately but then were more or less reconciled with Rome, or were ordained with the parallel recognition of Rome and Beijing, number around seventy.
And there are eight still beholden to the regime, who for the Holy See are not only illegitimate, but also excommunicated.
One proof of this intricate situation came at the beginning of this September, with the death at age 88 of Vincent Zhu Weifang, bishop of Wenzhou, the city that recently made news for the crosses taken down by zealous communist functionaries.
The diocese of Wenzhou has a history of stark division between the two Catholic communities. It is calculated that there are about 100,000 faithful in the “official” community and 50,000 in the “underground” one. The priests are equally distributed between the two branches, and number about fifty in all.
Ordained bishop in 2009 after twenty years of imprisonment and forced labor, Zhu obtained government recognition in 2010. But Rome placed alongside him, as coadjutor with right of succession, an “underground” bishop, Peter Shao Zhumin.
So then, to prevent him from taking leadership of the diocese, the communist authorities have abducted him together with three of his priests, preventing him from celebrating his predecessor’s funeral. And on top of that they have promoted as head of the “official” priests one of their proteges, Ma Xianshi, as if singling him out as the new bishop the regime would like to have appointed.
It is against this background that Hong Kong bishop Cardinal John Tong previewed this past August the terms of the agreement he saw approaching between Rome and Beijing over the appointment of bishops:
> Card. Tong: Communion of the Church in China with the Universal Church
Unleashing the wrath of his elderly but ever-combative predecessor in Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Zekiun, against what he judges as an intolerable concession by the Vatican:
> Card. Zen: My concerns over China-Holy See dialogue and repercussions on Chinese Church
The agreement would assign to the Beijing authorities the selection and proposal of every new bishop, while Rome would have the faculty of vetoing the candidates it didn’t want.
Formally, every new candidate would be proposed by the Chinese episcopal conference. Only that this conference is a creature of the communist party, completely at the beck and call of the regime, without any “underground” bishops and with a president who is one of the eight excommunicants.
Even if it is approved by Rome, therefore, the fear is that every new bishop would in any case have to undergo the iron control and impositions of the communist authorities.
“Fear and trembling” for the Church are precisely the words that Parolin himself used on August 27 with regard to the “hopes and expectations for new developments in relations between the Apostolic See and China,” in a conference on a great diplomat of the 20th century on Chinese soil, Cardinal Celso Costantini:
“I consider it important to emphasize this concept forcefully: the hoped-for new and good relations with China – including diplomatic relations, if God should will it so! – are not an end in themselves or a desire to be attained perhaps as “worldly” successes, but are pondered and pursued, not without fear and trembling because here it is a matter of the Church, which belongs to God, only inasmuch as they are ‘functional’ – I repeat – to the good of Chinese Catholics, to the good of the whole Chinese people and to the harmony of the whole society, on behalf of world peace.”
The cardinal secretary of state assured the nuncios gathered in Rome that it will be up to the pope to decide on the suitability of every new candidate for bishop.
He reiterated that the appointment will be up to the pope.
He also implicitly confirmed, therefore, that it will be the Chinese authorities who will propose the candidate, through the episcopal conference.
But precisely in regard to this, he said that a couple of key questions will have to be resolved prior to the agreement.
The first concerns the thirty “underground” bishops, who will have to be recognized by the government and integrated into the episcopal conference.
The second concerns the fate of the eight “official” bishops who were excommunicated. All of whom – he said – have asked Rome for absolution. But in order to deserve it, they will have to make credible professions of unconditional fidelity to the pope and to the Church.
Also hanging over them is the accusation of having children and lovers. If proven, canonical sanctions would follow.
So it is not easy for the eight to arrive quickly at that generalized jubilee “pardon” which Pope Francis is thought to have foreshadowed.
And it is even more difficult to foresee how the Beijing authorities would behave toward any of the eight who might remain excommunicated or be made the object of canonical sanction.
Just as it is not known to what extent China may be willing to extend official recognition to the “underground” bishops.
The agreement, in short, if subordinated “to the good of the Church, which belongs to God,” is plausibly much more complicated and further off than many believe or fear.
And the recent publication of the new draft regulations for religious activities in China does not provide much reason for hope. They appear even more punitive than the previous ones, when it comes to “illegal religious activities” and “functionaries from abroad.” A heavy blow for the “underground” Catholic Church:
> Beijing issues new, harsh draft regulations on religious activities
One of the criticisms that Cardinal Zen levels against the Vatican authorities is that of responding to China today with the “bankrupt” Ostpolitik pursued by Agostino Casaroli during the years of the Cold War with the communist countries of Eastern Europe.
In regard to this, here is what Joseph Ratzinger said in his book-length interview published at the beginning of September:
“It was clear that Casaroli’s policy, as much as it may have been implemented with the best of intentions, was a failure. The new approach followed by John Paul II was the fruit of his personal experience, of contact with those powers. So naturally it could not be hoped that the regime would collapse right away, but it was evident that, instead of being conciliatory and accepting compromises, one had to oppose it forcefully. This was the basic vision of John Paul II, which I shared.”