Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Vatican-Chinese relations

On the feast of Pentecost in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the members of the Catholic Church in the Peoples Republic of China. It seemed to me - and I posted on it here  - that a key concern of this letter was to encourage unity between those Catholics who had remained loyal to the Holy See (the "underground Church") and those who had joined the Patriotic Association. After the publication of the letter, there seemed to be a growing rapprochement between the Catholics of the "underground Church" and those of the Patriotic Association, one evidence of this being the funeral of  Bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou. Another evidence of this rapprochement was the ordination of some bishops who met with both the approval of the Holy See and of the Chinese state authorities. This report from AsiaNews is indicative of a series of Episcopal ordinations that have taken place during 2010, the new bishops being approved by the Holy See and recognised by the Chinese authorities.

However, this rapprochement, hopeful as it is, does not represent the full picture of events in China. In other respects, the persecution and harrasment of Catholics in China continued. As I cite, in commenting on Tony Blair's speech at Rimini in August 2009, a range of harrassing actions against Christians have and are taking place in China. Catholics in particular were the target of the suppression of the pilgrimage to Sheshan. In the context of the Beijing Olympic Games, there is a real sense that the Chinese authorities were saying one thing in public about religious freedom but, on the ground, doing the opposite.

In November 2010 we saw the visit to China by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. His visit was dominated by the negotiation of trade agreements. Once again, this gave the impression of a "normality" about life in China, and about the relations that other countries have with China.
However, shortly after this visit, the Chinese authorities, through a coercion of the Patriotic Association, have insisted on the illicit ordination of a bishop. This was reported here at ZENIT. Father Jincai is the vice secretary-general of the Catholic Patriotic Association, and the Holy See repeatedly made clear to the Chinese authorities that his ordination did not have the approval of the Holy See. An assembly of the Chinese Patriotic Association also took place at the beginning of December, after the Holy See had urged Bishops and priests not to take part. Once again, coercion on the part of the Chinese authorities played a part in their participation. The sense that the Chinese authorities are presenting one face in public, and another on the ground can be felt again.

The response of the Vatican to these developments is expressed most formally in a statement in response to the illicit ordination and  a note issued on 17th December, both posted in full by ZENIT. These two statements give an indication of the events leading up to the illicit ordination and the assembly, and states with clarity the position of the Holy See with regard to Church/State relations in China. They represent a robust response to the actions of the Chinese authorities, which have undermined a previously growing understanding between them and the Holy See during a series of Episcopal ordinations.

This is the context of Pope Benedict's mention of the Church in China towards the end of his "Urbi et Orbe" message on Christmas Day. It follows earlier appeals for prayer on behalf of the Church in China.

May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of “God-with-us” grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution ...

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