The always interesting Sandro Magister presents us with a piece on the Church in China.
I am sure you will be shocked that the "openness" of the Olympic facade might not have been entirely genuine.
Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.
Between obedience to the pope and to the communist party, some bishops are choosing the latter. The most stunning about-face has taken place in the capital. A secret letter from Cardinal Bertone. The alarm of Cardinal Zen
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, February 11, 2009 – At the Vatican as well, they had deceived themselves that the Beijing Olympics would lead to greater freedom for the Catholic Church. But the news coming to Rome from China shows the contrary. [Hoping against hope, perhaps? Proceeding because there was no other choice? I don’t know. I have, however, stated more than once on this blog that the Holy See doesn’t understand that when playing chess with the Chinese, they might be playing by different rules. Chinese chess ain’t quite the same game.]
Meanwhile, once again the Chinese authorities have not permitted bishops to leave the country, to participate in the synod last October.
In the second place, the episcopal see of Beijing – occupied in recent decades strictly by bishops appointed by the government, and without the authorization of the pope, but "reconquered" by Rome two summers ago with the installation of a new bishop approved both by the government and by the Holy See – is in serious danger of being lost again.
In fact, the new bishop, Joseph Li Shan (in the photo) whom cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone had hailed as "a very good and suitable person," [His name keeps popping up in these less than successful ventures, doesn’t it.] is increasingly stringing together actions submissive toward the regime. To such an extent that many among the faithful already consider him a "traitor."
In the third place, the communist party has intensified its pressure to subjugate the Church and separate a significant part of it from Rome. [What a surprise.] This pressure is mainly exercised on the bishops installed by the government. Most of these, year after year, had returned to communion with the pope. But now some of them are wavering.
In July of 2007, Benedict XVI had written an open letter to Catholics in China, to help them establish unity between themselves and Rome. But the process of reconciliation and rebuilding of the Chinese Church timidly undertaken after that letter now seems to have come to a halt.
Last April, a second letter went out from the Vatican to China, this time confidential and addressed only to the bishops. But the letter, signed by Cardinal Bertone, [uh huh] seemed to some of the bishops like a step backward in comparison with that of the pope. It was too deferential toward the Chinese authorities. [you don’t say!]
"Asia News," the online agency with a special focus on China, founded and directed by Fr. Bernardo Cervellera of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, has carried out a survey among the Chinese bishops. The results have been called "disturbing."
To such an extent that Cardinal Zen Zekiun, [God grant him length of days!] making use of the greater freedom that he enjoys as a citizen of Hong Kong, has broken the paralysis and raised the alarm. He has urged his brother bishops on the mainland not to give in, and to be more courageous in opposing the pressure from the regime.
He follows with an indepth piece by Fr. Cervellera of Asia News. You can read that yourself, and I urge you to do so.
Here are some salient excerpts:
The bishop of Beijing, the Vatican, and compromising with the Patriotic Association
by Bernardo Cervellera
Just over a year after the ordination of their current bishop, the Catholics of Beijing are divided in their opinion of him, and more and more of them are accusing him of betraying the Church of Rome. [vox populi]
The faithful have been taken aback by his way of doing things, by speeches that seem to be slipping conctinually toward absolute submission to the Patriotic Association, dedicated to creating and controlling a Catholic Church independent of Rome.
In all of these speeches and statements, the tone and slogans used are characteristic of the language of the party, and of the most radical period of communism in China, that of the Cultural Revolution. The faithful are astonished, and are wondering how in the world their pastor could turn so quickly into a Red Guard, showing even more servility toward power than his predecessor did.
According to information obtained by "Asian News," Bishop Li Shan has repented of his actions [his favorable relations with Rome] and has justified his behavior on the basis of the pressure that he had to undergo. In effect, precisely because of the pope’s letter and the restoration of unity among almost all the Chinese bishops, the United Front and the Patriotic Association have, for over a year, launched a series of initiatives to bring the official Chinese bishops back into obedience – to them. The United Front and the CPCA summon them constantly, require them to participate in conferences, meetings, study sessions, political sessions, making their pastoral work very difficult. The bishops are not even able to meet among themselves alone, and go from a life in solitude – at the mercy of the CPCA secretaries – to collective gatherings under the control and indoctrination of the United Front and the state administration for religious affairs.
THE TIMID LETTER OF CARDINAL BERTONE
To keep the bishops united and halt the influence of the CPCA, on April 22, 2008, the Vatican sent a letter to all the Chinese bishops in communion with Rome. Signed by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the letter took months to reach the 90 or so bishops in the official and underground Church. Some of them didn’t get it until December of 2008.
Cardinal Bertone’s letter is important because for the first time it asks the official and underground bishops to meet. But it avoids giving them a joint approach to take toward the CPCA. The previous letter from the pope had noted that this is contrary to Catholic doctrine, but did not ask official bishops to resign from them.
Some underground bishops have said that a more decisive stance on the part of the Holy See would be more effective.
So far, official bishops have tried to resist CPCA pressure, but with few results. At the same time, some underground bishops have tried to get government recognition without joining the CPCA, but no local government has accepted this solution, reaffirming instead the central role played by the CPCA in the government’s religious policies.
Many Catholics, both official and underground, are afraid that without clear and specific guidelines from the Holy See, official bishops will be forced by events and individual interpretations of the papal letter into making compromises.
A SURVEY AMONG THE CHINESE BISHOPS
In recent months, more than a year after the release of the pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics, "Asia News" conducted a survey among Chinese bishops as to their attitudes towards Benedict XVI’s guidelines. Some answers are startling. On the one hand, some bishops praise the letter and the pontiff’s teachings, which urge unity with him and among themselves. On the other hand, they do not seem at all disturbed by the fact that the document describes the CPCA’s programs and policies as "incompatible" with Catholic doctrine.
So in their replies, a number of the official bishops lavishly praised the Association for its "help to the Church" and the "needy," as well as for "taking care of religion." Some bishops in central China went so far as to say that the CPCA and the Church "are one and the same."
A Catholic from northern China told "Asia News": "Official bishops lack guts. When Beijing tells them to get together, they get going right away. … Other Catholics, especially in Beijing, accuse the bishops of being greedy for power and money; this said to be why they accept compromises.
CARDINAL ZEN: NO MORE COMPROMISES
Out of this ambiguous and confused situation, the clear voice of Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong has emerged, asking bishops and priests in the official Church to be more courageous and resist making compromises with the regime.
Zen says that given the danger of serious compromises, the experience of the underground Church is even more valuable. For this reason, the cardinal was blasted the celebrations that on 19 December of last year marked the 50th anniversary of illicit episcopal ordinations in China.
For the bishop of Hong Kong, there is nothing to celebrate, because the system of "self-ordination" is the work of 1950’s extreme left-wing radicals who saw the pope as an agent of imperialism. But this view is outdated, at a time when China is celebrating 30 years of economic reforms implemented to oppose this radical mentality.
"Forcing Catholics to go against their conscience is a great insult to the dignity of every Chinese citizen," the cardinal writes. "This is why there is nothing to be proud of or to celebrate. Such celebrations are a sign that the establishment won’t let go, that it wants our great nation to bear the mark of backwardness."
For the cardinal, it is clear that all of the hoopla over the CPCA’s 50th anniversary, its "self-ordinations," is a preparation for meetings to elect the new presidents of the Patriotic Association and the Chinese bishops’ council. He suggests the bishops should boycott the next meeting to which they are summoned. "Isn’t taking part in such an ‘assembly’ a show of total contempt for the papal letter? Isn’t it a slap in the face? Can your conscience let you do this? Will God’s people accept it? Will it bring any honour to our nation? Will there be hope for a return to normalcy and the enjoyment of freedom of religion?"
In the article, Cardinal Zen says that some members of the Chinese Church are praising compromises and ambiguity. "Some people, talking to the brothers in the underground community, seem to be saying: ‘We are very smart to accept a compromise! We are in communion with the Holy Father and at the same time are recognised by the government. They give us money and we take care of our faithful. You instead prefer to go to prison; you would rather die. And then what of your faithful; abandoned, with no one taking care of them’. "
The cardinal continues: "So, martyrdom has become a stupid thing? That’s absurd; a short-sighted view! Reaching compromises might make sense as a short-term strategy but it cannot last forever. Being secretly united with the Holy Father and at the same time affiliated with a Church that declares itself autonomous from Rome is a contradiction."
Finally, Cardinal Zen ends with a fraternal appeal: "Dear brother bishops and priests, look at the example of Saint Stephen and all the martyrs of our history! Remember that suffering for the sake of the faith is the basis of victory even if right now it might appear as defeat."
Pray pray pray for the Church in China.
Perhaps you could make this one of your Lenten projects: daily prayer for Catholics in China.