Tuesday 8 November 2016

The Vatican and China: a new ostpolitik?

I haven't been able to follow the details of the reported rapprochement between the Holy See and the authorities in China. Reuters reporting, from 21st October, appears comprehensive - but a phrase like "... China is preparing to ordain at least two new bishops before the end of the year..." does not inspire confidence in the precision of its content. Pope Francis is reported to be the driving force behind the negotiations, and so is taking the negative coverage for it.

Cardinal Zen has criticised the reported progress towards an agreement, most particularly in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal (but behind a subscription/registration firewall). Reports of his criticism can be found here and here.

As I write I do not know whether an agreement has been reached; and nor do I know the subtleties of its contents, particularly as regards the appointment and ordination of bishops. What I have wondered, though, is whether or not Pope Francis' moves in this area are in continuity with Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics of May 2007. That letter, as I recall it from the time, had an underlying anxiety to achieve some degree of reconciliation between the faithful of the "underground Church" and those of the "patriotic Church", whilst at the same time being very clear in its affirmation of the requirements of authentic ecclesial communion. It also includes a call for dialogue between the Holy See and the authorities in China. I do find it difficult to believe that any agreement will conflict with the provisions of Pope Benedict's letter (events might prove me wrong?), from which I quote a passage that may well provide some background to the reports with regard to the recognition of "state appointed" bishops (or, in the language of Pope Benedict's letter, the "legitimisation" of bishops appointed without an Apostolic mandate):
Currently, all the Bishops of the Catholic Church in China are sons of the Chinese People. Notwithstanding many grave difficulties, the Catholic Church in China, by a particular grace of the Holy Spirit, has never been deprived of the ministry of legitimate Pastors who have preserved the apostolic succession intact. We must thank the Lord for this constant presence, not without suffering, of Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church.
Some of them, not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration. The clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church's life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church's life. For this reason the Holy See hopes that these legitimate Pastors may be recognized as such by governmental authorities for civil effects too – insofar as these are necessary – and that all the faithful may be able to express their faith freely in the social context in which they live.
Other Pastors, however, under the pressure of particular circumstances, have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate. The Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments and the complexity of the situation, and taking into account the opinion of neighbouring Bishops, by virtue of his proper responsibility as universal Pastor of the Church, has granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction. This initiative of the Pope resulted from knowledge of the particular circumstances of their ordination and from his profound pastoral concern to favour the reestablishment of full communion. Unfortunately, in most cases, priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized. For this reason it is indispensable, for the spiritual good of the diocesan communities concerned, that legitimation, once it has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, and that the legitimized Bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter.
Finally, there are certain Bishops – a very small number of them – who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate and who have not asked for or have not yet obtained, the necessary legitimation. According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, they are to be considered illegitimate, but validly ordained, as long as it is certain that they have received ordination from validly ordained Bishops and that the Catholic rite of episcopal ordination has been respected. Therefore, although not in communion with the Pope, they exercise their ministry validly in the administration of the sacraments, even if they do so illegitimately. What great spiritual enrichment would ensue for the Church in China if, the necessary conditions having been established, these Pastors too were to enter into communion with the Successor of Peter and with the entire Catholic episcopate! Not only would their episcopal ministry be legitimized, there would also be an enrichment of their communion with the priests and the faithful who consider the Church in China part of the Catholic Church, united with the Bishop of Rome and with all the other particular Churches spread throughout the world.
In individual nations, all the legitimate Bishops constitute an Episcopal Conference, governed according to its own statutes, which by the norms of canon law must be approved by the Apostolic See. Such an Episcopal Conference expresses the fraternal communion of all the Bishops of a nation and treats the doctrinal and pastoral questions that are significant for the entire Catholic community of the country without, however, interfering in the exercise of the ordinary and immediate power of each Bishop in his own diocese. Moreover, every Episcopal Conference maintains opportune and useful contacts with the civil authorities of the place, partly in order to favour cooperation between the Church and the State, but it is obvious that an Episcopal Conference cannot be subjected to any civil authority in questions of faith and of living according to the faith (fides et mores, sacramental life), which are exclusively the competence of the Church.
In the light of the principles expounded above, the present College of Catholic Bishops of China cannot be recognized as an Episcopal Conference by the Apostolic See: the "clandestine" Bishops, those not recognized by the Government but in communion with the Pope, are not part of it; it includes Bishops who are still illegitimate, and it is governed by statutes that contain elements incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Madeleine Delbrel: Counting on Mercy

Magnificat for 4th November offered, as the "Meditation of the Day", an extract from the writings of Madeleine Delbrel. Magnificat published it under the title "Counting on Mercy". In the English translation of the original text it is the first paragraphs of a section entitled "Those who are unhappy". It is part of a study written by Madeleine, dated 1951, that reflects on what it means to be a missionary in the Church of her times. The resonance of the study as a whole to Pope Francis' ideas of "missionary parishes" and "missionary disciples" is striking, as is the comparison of the passage offered by Magnificat to the evangelising significance of the Year of Mercy. It is also worth recalling, as we read the following words, Madeleine's own radical choice to live among the workers of a Communist suburb of Paris.
We cannot let mercy dry up, as so often happens today. A greater awareness of the economic hardship of the masses cannot lead us to have scorn for other forms of suffering, or to lose interest in them.
Christ's mercy for the poor is one part of a mercy as vast as all the human griefs combined. It is a mercy for sinners, a mercy for the sick, a mercy for those lamenting their dead, a mercy for those in prison, a mercy for all the little ones.
Because of a reductively materialistic notion of poverty, we are often in danger of forgetting that there are people who are poor in other ways than merely economically; there are other little ones than the workers. There are those who are morally or psychologically weak. There are those who are poor in gifts, in appeal, in love. In addition to the oppressed classes are those who are "unclassifiable".
Those who are little, those who are poor, are not only in the working class. And the working class itself is not made up exhaustively of militants, militants who are already rich in hope, rich in heart, rich in intellectual formation.
It is not up to us to correct Christ's heart either - it belongs to all people and we have to give it to all people.
The personal love of Christ. He calls each one by name - he does not call a category. He knows each one of as the Father knows the Son.

As I looked up this extract in my copy of We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, my eye was caught by the following in the last but one paragraph of the preceding section:
All great human activities function as signs. Just as marriage is the most perfect sign of the union of Christ and his Church, and voluntary celibacy makes us live more fully the reality towards which this sign points, human work is a sign of the Church's toil over the world, a suffering and fruitful labour.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Pope Francis' homily for All Saints

I have not been able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Sweden to mark the anniversary of the Reformation, due to pressures of work and family events.

However, I have just read the text of his homily for the Solemnity of All Saints which, though it touches on ecumenism only lightly, nevertheless speaks of an underpinning principle of ecumenical activity, that is, of a common search for holiness rooted in the consecration of Baptism.

Like Pope Benedict XVI before him, Pope Francis can provide a lovely turn of phrase:
The Beatitudes are the image of Christ and consequently of each Christian..... 
....meekness is the attitude of those who have nothing to lose, because their only wealth is God..... 
The Beatitudes are in some sense the Christian’s identity card. They identify us as followers of Jesus..... 
To our heavenly Mother, Queen of All Saints, we entrust our intentions and the dialogue aimed at the full communion of all Christians, so that we may be blessed in our efforts and may attain holiness in unity.
I also noted his reference to the foundress (and re-foundress) of the Order of St Bridget, topical both because of Pope Francis' presence in Sweden and because of the ecumenical context of his visit. The charism of the Bridgettines is hospitality and prayer for the unity of Christians and, for me, they represent one example of how the mission to ecumenism represented in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is lived out, not as some kind of "extra", but as an ordinary part of the life of the Church. (The charism of the spirituality of unity of the Focolare movement is another example of the living out of the ecumenical impulse in the daily life of the Church).