A couple stories are out that the Letter the Holy Father promised to Chinese Catholics will be coming soon.
One report from WDTPRS’s favorite, Joseph Card. Zen of Hong Kong, says that it may be shared with the goverment in Beijing before its release.
The text is not going to be changed in any way by government reaction, however. This is a courtesy gesture.
The Catholic newpaper The Sunday Examiner reports that Card. Zen says tha though drafts were prepared for the Pope (whcih I might add is always the case) the Pope took the work them to himself. He won’t simply sign something drafted for him. Card. Zen predicts there were be backlashes from the government. In his open comments about the upcoming letter, the Cardinal is clearly doing some damage control, on the one hand, but also preparing the ground for a good reception.
Cardinal Zen, in what follows, gives considerable space to debunking what he considered a very dangerous article from UCANEWS about the Pope’s upcoming letter. Card. Zen identifies in that article what he sees as the government line.
At the end, Cardinal Zen make a strong and emotional statement which you should mis reading.
Here is Cardinal Zen’s statement (my emphasis).
Cardinal speaks on how we should be prepared to accept the Holy Father’s letter
Everybody is waiting for the promised letter from the Holy Father to Catholics in China. It is believed that this letter will probably be published during the Easter season.
All the Catholic faithful, Chinese and otherwise, as well as all people concerned with the Church in China, are awaiting this letter with great expectation.
Those who helped prepare the initial drafts of the pope’s letter are waiting with curiosity. They know that this is going to be ‘his’ letter. His Holiness will not just sign the drafts prepared by others, but will take responsibility for every sentence in the letter.
The people from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and from the Religious Affairs Bureau, who promoted the illegitimate, episcopal ordinations in China last year, must be waiting with anxiety. They probably anticipate a letter unfavourable to them and may even be plotting some action in retaliation.
The Chinese government may be perplexed as to what to expect from the letter. On the one hand, it may remember the Holy See’s stern statements of May and December last year; on the other hand, it has noticed the highly conciliatory posture of the press release at the end of the meeting at the Vatican towards the end of January.
The clergy of the “underground” (unofficial) faithful on mainland China must be in a hopeful mood while waiting for the letter. They appreciated the encouragement signified by the words of the Holy Father on December 26, which were repeated in the press release of January 20.
The clergy and faithful of the “open” (official) Church on mainland China are also full of expectation for the pope’s letter, but that expectation may be varied. The majority is expecting clear directions from the letter. In the recent past, several have been complaining about the supposed lack of clarity on the part of the Holy See. They anticipate that the awaited clear instructions may not please everybody. They are prepared, however, to accept unreservedly the guidance of the Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth, even if they have to pay dearly for it.
However, there are also members of the “open” Church who hope that the Holy Father will lean more in the direction of compromise (“not to provoke the Chinese government”, they say), so that Sino-Vatican relations may soon be normalised.
An article, representing this position, written anonymously by a priest on mainland China, was published by UCAN News on March 20. It was prominently reported in the Sunday Examiner of April 1.
After a careful reading of this article, my honest opinion is that while claiming to be impartial, it is very close to the official government line. The reporting of the facts is selective, the analysis and evaluation is ambiguous. The likely intention of the article (surely futile) is to advise the Holy Father to move towards compromise, that is, to confirm the present, abnormal situation. We are sure that the Holy Father will not be influenced, but the article is nonetheless dangerous. In fact, inside and outside China, it may mislead readers into having wrong expectations regarding the pope’s letter and making a wrong response when it comes out. This would lessen the letter’s effectiveness.
In my detailed assessment of the article, I see that it emphasises the faithfulness of the members of the “open” Church to the universal Church and their respect for the pope as their “spiritual leader.” It forgets, however, that the “open” Church, even today, still proclaims, officially, to be an independent Church.
The article also criticises the underground Church for its stubbornness in opposing the government. The underground Church, however, is “guilty” only of not accepting the opportunity of being a member of an independent Church.
The article blames the media overseas for being hostile to China by claiming that persecution is still going on there. However, the overseas media are simply reporting facts. Though I disagree with the position of the Kung Foundation, I don’t think their reports on imprisoned bishops, priests and faithful are just hearsay.
The author blames people for using western standards in making their judgments. However, when fundamental human rights are in question, there should be no distinction between western or eastern standards.
The article still mentions events like the Opium War to defend the backward religious policy of the government and the author is of the opinion that we should appreciate the progress made by China in recent years and accept the still existing limitations. This we surely do. But if you see them taking two steps forward and one step backward, or one step forward and two steps backward, you should not appreciate their backward steps. And if the still-existing limitations make the situation fundamentally unacceptable, we are bound to protest. No matter how big the cage, a bird locked inside is still a “bird in a cage.” [It is interesting to see, in Hong Kong, that men still take their birds for a walk in the mornings. They stroll about with their bird cages. This image, therefore, is very immediate for the Chinese.]
In evaluating the present tension between China and the Holy See, the author of the article presents himself as impartial. In reality, by doing so, he dispenses himself from holding the Catholic position. He puts all the blame on differing understandings of politics and religion in Chinese and western cultures. He says, “The government does not accept that the Church should appoint bishops without government approval, because they do not understand the Catholic faith. The Church does not accept that the government should appoint bishops without the Holy See’s approval, because they do not understand the political expectations of China.” So, what should the conclusion be? That the Church renounce her faith so as to fulfill the political expectations of the Chinese government!
A more detailed examination of the article’s assessment of the illegitimate episcopal ordinations of last year reveals a surprising criticism. The author criticises them severely, qualifying them as “unreasonable” and “going too far.” In the English translation, words like “shock”, “bitterness” and “regret” abound. (The author seemingly has inside information that the highest authorities were not actively behind those initiatives, which goes to confirm our guess).
After condemning the ordinations, however, the article then says that it is more important to ask the question, “Why?” And in answering the question, the author justifies those ordinations by pointing to the inner motivation behind the facts. What was actually meant by those ordinations was to show China’s strong discontent with the Vatican for repeated appointments of clandestine bishops and the disapproving of bishop-candidates elected with Chinese government support. In addition to this, it signifies China’s protest against anti-communist, anti-Chinese comments made by some overseas media.
So, the final, solemn and impartial judgment made in the article is, “At such moments, claims of sincerity by both China and the Vatican fail to pass the test.”
However, looking at the development of the situation in China, our understanding of the facts is that the illegitimate ordinations were really extremely unreasonable, because they suddenly reversed the then-direction of development.
For 20 years or so, both the Chinese government and the Holy See had been trying to compromise with each other with generosity. The Holy See recognised a great number of illegitimate bishops and approved a good number of bishop-candidates elected with Chinese government support, without demanding that they publicly renounce their belonging to the “open” Church. The government, on its side, was well aware of the recognitions, approvals and even direct appointments by Rome and did not take any punitive action.
At this stage, the situation was ripe for both sides to sit down and work out a reasonable accord. The demise of one pope and the coming onto the scene of another seemed to represent a good opportunity. Unfortunately, suddenly, we were inflicted with those ugly facts, which shocked the whole world, saddened the whole Church and challenged the harmony that the government professes to promote.
Rightly, every one was asking, “Why?”
We in Hong Kong are unanimous in thinking that the plausible explanation of the illegal ordinations is that there are people who are afraid that, after the normalisation of relations, they may lose their power and acquired advantages. That is why they tried to disrupt the negotiations. The author of the article must have learned about this viewpoint of ours. Why did he not bring it into the discussion?
The author mentions many big, recent religious events supported by the government. I think we Catholics would have been very happy if we had simply been allowed to organise our own activities. Every time the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Religious Affairs Bureau intervene, you may suspect a political aim. For example, they brought Father Ma Ying-lin to the Religious Peace Summit in Moscow to shake hands with cardinals; they brought him to the Peace Summit in Tokyo to concelebrate with archbishops and bishops; and photos were taken and publicised to “prove” that Father Ma is recognised as a legitimate bishop.
If we ask what the likely intention of the article is and what the author wanted to achieve, we are in the region of conjecture. However, it is not difficult to see that the article aims at maintaining the status quo. The reasoning is quite simple, if the problem is all about misunderstanding, then the solution is in mutual compromise. The author gives priority to solving the problem between the states (China and the Vatican) through diplomatic relations. To make that a reality, the Holy See must posit whatever signs of good will are conducive to that purpose.
Under the beautiful words “mutual understanding,” “trust,” “good will” and “friendship”, the substance of what the article wants to say is, “Do not irritate the government, do not insist on the normalisation of the religious situation or of religion freedom.” The author of the article speaks precisely according to the government’s plans, in that even after the establishment of diplomatic relations, there should be no big changes and the status quo should be maintained (so that the acquired position and advantages of certain people be safeguarded).
The article hopes that the pope will opt for compromise. This hope is not likely to be fulfilled.
But the article is nonetheless dangerous. The author is knowledgeable and an expert in sophisms. By presenting himself as an impartial analyst, he can easily succeed in misleading people into nurturing false expectations with regard to the pope’s letter.
If readers, inside and outside China, accept the suggestions of the article, they will expect the Holy Father to emphasise with friendship rather than truth and diplomatic relations rather than real normalisation and real religious freedom.
People with such expectations, I believe, will be disappointed when the letter does come out. They may even side with those who may eventually take an irrational, retaliatory action. Then, the Catholic Church in China would be on the road of no return to becoming a national Church, independent from Rome. The best elements of the Church would, then, become frustrated and vanish. Then, the normalisation of the life of faith would become a far away dream.
We must believe that the only purpose of the Holy Father in writing such a letter is the real normalisation of the religious situation, so that the millions of Chinese Catholic faithful can live their lives of faith happily and bear abundant fruit. Let us be united in prayer and action behind this unique purpose for which we must stand up. Let us join the majority, or the almost totality of the faithful on mainland China, who are ready to accept, without reservation, the directives contained in the Holy Father’s letter.
We beseech the leaders of our nation cease allowing an enslaved Church to bring shame on our country, and to let a free and respected Church bring honour to our strong and respected country. Please, give these people, who are your citizens, the happiness of freedom to practice their faith. They will be willing to offer their lives for the good of their country.
+ Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun
I think this is instructive for all of us waiting for the Motu Proprio.
There are places in the world people struggle simply to live and die as free men.
The Holy Father has many burdens on his desk and shoulders.