What is going on in China?

In all seriousness.

John Allen
, the nearly ubiquituous, fair-minded writer for the ultra-lefty NCR has a piece about what is going on in China.

Crackdown in China takes church ‘back to the time of Mao’
by John L Allen Jr on Dec. 10, 2010


New government pressures on the Catholic church in China, including the election of an illicitly ordained bishop as the new president of a government-controlled bishops’ conference, threaten to “turn the clock back to the times of Mao Zedong,” according to an influential Vatican China-watcher.

Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, director of the “Asia News” agency and a longtime Vatican advisor on Chinese affairs, said Dec. 10 that the results of an early December assembly of Catholic groups recognized by the country’s Communist government, but not by the Vatican, “reaffirms the power of the Party over the church” and “risks reopening the wounds of division within the church.”

Though Cervellera does not hold an official Vatican position, his views on China are routinely consulted by Vatican diplomats, and often reflect the thinking of senior church officials.

There’s a widespread sense in Rome that recent events represent “the end of a spring” in China, in the words of an essay carried today on the front page of Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most influential daily, by Catholic writer Alberto Melloni. Just a year ago, Melloni noted, a thaw between Rome and Beijing seemed to be leading towards a gradual resolution of longstanding church/state tensions.

The latest row began Nov. 20, with the ordination of a new Chinese bishop, Guo Jincai, without approval of the pope.

Since the Communist rise to power in China in 1949, government policy had been to try to promote an “autonomous” Catholic church in the country, controlled not by Rome but a government-sponsored “Patriotic Association.” That policy led to a stark division between an “official” church in China which cooperated with the government, and a “catacombs” church which spurned Communist influence.

In recent years, the Vatican has worked toward rapprochement, encouraging bishops and clergy to come out into the open, while also pressing the government to respect the freedom of the church. That policy was expressed in a May 2007 “Letter to Chinese Catholics” from Pope Benedict XVI, which supported ending the division between an official and an underground church, while defining the government-controlled Patriotic Association and bishops’ conference as illegitimate.

In China, the letter was widely seen as as a signal of détente with the government.

The test case for whether the government would meet the Vatican halfway has always been seen as its willingness to defer to Rome on the selection of bishops, and in broad strokes that had seemed to be the recent policy: According to Melloni, ten of the last eleven Catholic bishops ordained in China were approved by Rome.

That, in turn, is why the Nov. 20 ordination was seen as a provocation.

The early December elections for leadership in the Patriotic Association and the government-controlled bishops’ conference seem certain to reinforce that impression. The new president of the bishops’ conference is Giuseppe Ma Yinglin of Yunnan, who was ordained without papal recognition. Another illicitly ordained bishop is among the vice-presidents, and Jincai is among the newly chosen vice-presidents of the Patriotic Association.

The new president of the Patriotic Association, Bishop Johan Fang Xinyao of Linyi, was ordained with papal approval, but is also seen as a figure willing to cooperate with the government authorities.

According to Cervellera, the presence of so many illicitly ordained bishops at the top of the country’s official Catholic agencies “raises the fear that from here on, it will be impossible to ordain pastors for China who are in communion with the Holy See.”

In effect, Cervellera said, it seems to be deliberate policy of the Chinese government “to want to create chaos in the church,” while also “extending the control of the Community Party over the entire official church.”

Other observers, however, suggest that the recent elections for the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference may represent a Pyrrhic victory for the government – a technical success but a PR failure, underscoring the lack of real religious freedom in China.

News reports, for example, suggest that several of the 64 “official” bishops who attended the meeting did so only under strong government pressure. According to a report in an Italian newspaper, one bishop apparently fled by car rather than attend the session and is now being sought to face criminal charges.

Another sign that Chinese Catholics at the grassroots are chafing at government pressure came in recent days in a seminary in Hebei, where a hundred seminarians protested against the nomination of a new vice-rector, a member of the Communist Party, by the local ministry for religious affairs. The reaction was so strong, according to local sources, the nomination had to be withdrawn.

Longtime China-watchers caution that it will take some time to see where church/state affairs actually stand in the wake of these new tensions. Relations between the Vatican and China have often been marked by a one-step-forward, one-step-back dynamic; both sides pride themselves on pragmatism, yet both have deep concerns about surrendering control of the local Catholic church to the other.

It’s possible, those China-watchers say, that the recent crackdown will be matched in the near future by some new gesture of reconciliation, intended to keep balance in the relationship with Rome.

In the meantime, however, most observers agree on one point: The new controversy has made a papal trip to China, long an ardent Vatican desire, seem even less likely as a near-term prospect.

I would love to see Benedict go to China, though I believe he already went to China, in the Nixonian sense, when he went to the UK.

Sad business.  Please, in your prayers, do not forget our brothers and sisters in China.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. fenetre says:

    It is not the first time that the Chinese government used this tactic. Lull its prey into a false sense of security, then pounce on them when it least expects it. It has happened in the 50s and 60s with the purging of intellectuals. Religion, like thinkers, is a threat to the regime. People are not supposed to think for themselves, they are supposed to do as the government says. A leopard cannot change its spots. The underground Catholics in China have learnt this lesson well. The policy may change, but the ideology hasn’t. In a way, this constant persecution may truly be the trial of faith for our brethren in China, that they be more precious than gold as tried in the fire. Deo gratias.

  2. rakesvines says:

    Well meaning people who collaborate with the Red government will be disappointed. One cannot ride the tiger and not expect to get eaten. So, they will either have a travesty of a puppet Church to vent their religious emotions and live a split level Christianity as they live out the immoral government mandates or go underground and be treated as subversives.

    With Obama selling out the US to the Chinese, we have no influence to curb the coming persecutions. And I doubt if Obama will raise his voice in protest because he has not done so with the on going carnage of Christians in the Middle East.

    Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    I do not think there is anything new. When the Church become stronger, the government becomes more nervous.

  4. sejoga says:

    One day, as he was about to swim across a river, a frog came upon a scorpion also wishing to cross. ‘My dear frog,’ the scorpion said, ‘may I ride on your back as you swim to the other side, that I might go across as well?’

    The frog scoffed. ‘Why would I take you across? You will sting me, and I will drown and die!’

    But the scorpion replied, ‘No, for if you died, then I too should drown. There would be no reason in my stinging you.’

    The frog, realizing the truth in this, agreed to carry the scorpion across the river. The scorpion climbed upon his back, and the frog began to swim to the opposite bank. But just as the end was in sight, the scorpion lashed his tail at the frog and stung him.

    ‘Why?’ cried the frog. ‘Why would you sting me? You said there would be no reason in it, and now we both shall drown!’

    ‘I am a scorpion,’ mused his passenger. ‘It is my nature.’

  5. asophist says:

    The article says: “It’s possible, those China-watchers say, that the recent crackdown will be matched in the near future by some new gesture of reconciliation, intended to keep balance in the relationship with Rome.”

    There is no doubt in my mind that whatever “balance” is struck, it will ultimately and always be in the favor of the Chinese government.

  6. templariidvm says:

    I know people (quite a few actually) who think that China is no longer a repressive communist country. They consider it in many ways superior to the US. This, alone, should shed a little light on how “freedoms” are given in China. Yes, they can “have religion” in China (as opposed to the U.S.S.R.) but government stooges run the works. The homilies might be a wake up call if played in the U.S.?

  7. Traductora says:

    @templariidvm: Obama has basically handed world leadership to China. I think he would have preferred to give it to Iran, but Ahmadinejad is such a nutcase that he couldn’t acknowledge what a good thing he had going, and Hugo Chavez, probably Obama’s second choice, is in an increasingly precarious situation domestically and probably won’t be able to make up the difference. He does have a strong alliance with Iran, and has invited it to this continent, but the fact that both countries are economically basket cases, aside from their control of oil, makes them much less powerful than China from any point of view. I think Obama would prefer a Muslim dictatorship, but Islam is so dysfunctional that I think a Communist dictatorship is about the best he’s going to get.

    Liberals in this country love China and hold it up as an example of how an economy and a country should run: that is, every citizen is nothing but an economic unit at the service of the state. Religion is allowed to the extent that it makes this idea bearable and makes said citizens cooperate. This concept is increasingly being imposed on us, so I don’t think it’s surprising that people no longer consider China to be a repressive communist country. In the mind of Obama and most of the left, China is exactly what a country should be. Sadly, I suspect there are many left-wing “social justice” US Catholics, including a number of bishops, who would agree with this.

    I’m not sure hearing the homilies would make a difference.

  8. rakesvines says:

    @Traductora: I think the Liberals might want both i.e. Chinese Communism for our economic system and Islam for our religious system. Speaking of the devil here is an intelligent and entertaining treatment of the positions held by these “elites”. I was suprised to find how the Democrats were the supporters of slavery et. al. counter-intuitive political stances (for Dems that is) in US history. http://divine-ripples.blogspot.com/2010/12/fun-with-liberal-talking-points-use-it.html

  9. ppb says:

    I want to call everybody’s attention to the Cardinal Kung Foundation in the U.S., which supports the persecuted underground Church in China. For example, you can send them Mass stipends, and they will distribute them to an underground priest in China who will offer Mass for your intentions (the $10 stipend is enough to support the priest’s living expenses for three days). Our Lady Help of Sheshan, pray for us!

  10. ppb says:

    Or rather I should say, Our Lady Help of Chistians and Our Lady of Sheshan, pray for us!

  11. J Kusske says:

    As always, it’s all about control. Some people in the central government were starting to feel things slipping out of their immediate grasp and they decided to act to reestablish their authority–maybe it’s the result of a new more hard-line person coming onto the scene, or some inner power struggle. I think asophist is absolutely correct: ‘whatever “balance” is struck, it will ultimately and always be in the favor of the Chinese government.’ The Nobel Prize fiasco the past month and the past couple of days shows the same desire for control–something beyond the government’s control angered them, so they try to get people to boycott it (with minimal success) and then come up with a risible alternative of their own, the “Confucius Prize”, whose winner didn’t even come to claim it. It may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic Victory in the end, but in the short term it’s a definite chilling of things.

    The upside is that the Chinese laity and most of the clergy are highly sensitive to it and resist. People in the official “Patriotic” hierarchy have zero respect from the Chinese faithful. I often believe that God is keeping the flame of faith burning in countries like China sheltered from the roaring gales of secularism and anti-Christianity in Western culture (here Christianity is still regarded as being trendy and Western, “Western” being a word to conjure with) to burst into flower here when springtime arrives, and it can recolonize apostocized countries. No regime lasts forever, and the current Chinese regime is no exception. But God only knows what the future holds.

  12. PM says:

    Benedict’s letter of 2007 was both conciliatory and principled. It allowed that sacraments conferred by the official (“Patriotic”) Church are valid, however illicit; and it implied that in view of the pressures on them priests and bishops in the Patriotic Church who had subsequently reconciled with Rome need not necessarily resign from the Patriotic Association. It also allowed that in a pinch, nothing better being available, the faithful could receive sacraments from Patriotic clergy who had not acknowledged papal authority. Since the letter there has been increased pressure by the regime on the Chinese clergy and religious, and this is perhaps reinforced by hints from certain quarters in the Vatican (Cardinal Bertone) that the underground Church should get with the program and stop making problems. To say that what is going on now is a return to the days of Mao is hyperbole, but it is nonetheless distressing.

    And probably not coincidentally, along with intensified harassment of the non-juring Catholic Church there is apparently a new crackdown on the Protestant “house churches.”

  13. tianzhujiao says:

    Ti?nzh? shèngm?, wèi w? d?ng qí. Sancta Dei Genetrix, ora pro nobis

  14. tianzhujiao says:

    Tian Zhu Sheng Mu, wei wo deng qi. Sancta Dei Genetrix, ora pro nobis

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