China. Why the Agreement With Rome Is Slow In Coming

China. Why the Agreement With Rome Is Slow In Coming

Sandro Magister
6/22/17

Last summer, an agreement between the Vatican and China had been given as imminent. But not any more. Instead of the two sides issuing shared rules on the appointment of new bishops, news is coming from Beijing news of bishops who have been incarcerated and disappeared.

Halfway through Lent, Mindong bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, recognized by Rome but not by the Chinese authorities, was arrested and taken to a secret location for the crime of not wanting to enroll in and submit to the paragovernmental Patriotic Association. “So that he may study and learn,” police representatives said about him.

Heading into Easter, the same fate for the same reasons befell the bishop of Wenzhou, Peter Shao Zhumin. Having reappeared after twenty days of indoctrination, he was arrested once again on May 18, without any news about his place of detention. On June 15 he was seen landing at the airport of Wenzhou, in custody, after which he disappeared again. His elderly mother has said she is afraid that in the end he will be brought back to her in a bag, as has already been done with other abducted bishops, tortured and left to die in years not so long ago: the last two being John Gao Kexian, bishop of Yantai, in 2004, and John Han Dingxian, bishop of Yongnian, in 2007.

On June 20, in an official statement, Germany’s ambassador to China, Michael Clauss – amid the silence of the Vatican authorities – asked that the bishop of Wenzhou be set free and expressed concern over the new religious regulations that threaten to “implement new restrictions on the right to freedom of religion and belief.”

Also still held in isolation is the bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, arrested immediately after his regular ordination, in 2012, for having disassociated himself from the Patriotic Association – in obedience to Rome, which judges membership in it as “incompatible” with the Catholic faith – and not let go since then in spite of the fact that he retracted his disassociation a year ago.

In Shanghai, the most populous Catholic diocese in China, the seminary was also closed on that occasion, to the point that only a few days ago was there finally priestly ordination – by the bishop of a nearby diocese – for four candidates who had been ready to receive orders since 2012.

Not only that. On Easter, in the cathedral of Mindong, precisely while the authentic bishop of that diocese was in confinement, Ma Daqin was allowed to celebrate along with the other unauthorized bishop of the same diocese, recognized by the government but not by Rome, Vincent Zhan Silu. With a flagrant affront to the Holy See, given that the excommunicated Zhan Silu, in addition to being a prominent member of the Patriotic Association, is also vice-president of the council of Chinese bishops, the pseudo episcopal conference set up by the communist regime exclusively with bishops in thrall to it, with the claim that this should be the group that selects future bishops.

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Since this is the way things are, it comes as no surprise that in Rome, even the most eager supporters of the agreement are raining on the parade.

Back in January Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state, had popped the bubbles and foretold “a long journey.”

But at the end of May Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a tireless proponent of an agreement and with a direct line to Casa Santa Marta and the pope, also admitted – in in article in “Avvenire” – that the timeframe has been pushed back.

And “La Civiltà Cattolica” sent the same message at the beginning of June, with an editorial signed by Chinese Jesuit Joseph You Guo Jiang, a Sinologist and professor at Boston College.

To read this editorial, the situation of the Catholic Church in China seems all wine and roses, today as in the past. It’s enough to look at how the historical point of departure summarizes the terrible years of Maoism and of the Cultural Revolution: “From 1949 until the Chinese policy of the ‘open door’ in 1978, Catholicism has faced various challenges and problems.” Not one word more.

And arriving at the present:

“The Chinese Catholic Church is called to redefine its role and its relationships with the communist party and with its ideology. . . Once this dialogue is in place, the Catholic Church and Chinese society will not clash any more. . . Catholicism will be able to find a stable place in it if it continues to be the expression of an open Church and a Church with Chinese characteristics and identity.”

Which means a Church with that “sinicized” face which is the imperative of the current rulers: a hodgepodge of traditional values and Marxist ideology under the iron control of the state, as in Confucian China it was the emperor who was the supreme authority over religious institutions and the faithful.

But wouldn’t you know it, “La Civiltà Cattolica” – which under the direction of Fr. Antonio Spadaro has become the “house organ” of Santa Maria – interprets even this in a positive vein.

And it cites in support of this the “historic” interview with Pope Francis given to Francesco Sisci for “Asia Times” of January 28, 2016.

Which in reality was a superb example of Realpolitik pushed to the extreme, both for the intentional silence – agreed on with the interviewer – on questions of religion and freedom, and for the words with which the pope absolved en bloc the past and present of China, urging it to “accept its own journey for what it has been,” as “water that flows” and purifies everything, even those millions of victims whom Francis is careful not to name, even tacitly.

The negotiation, in any case, continues. “There is a commission that is working with China and meets every three months, once here and the next time in Beijing,” Francis said in an interview with “El País” published last January 22.

But who knows how much it will take to reach an agreement that is not at any price whatsoever. “Time is greater than space,” says a postulate dear to Francis. Better that he make time for time.

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