China’s Underground Church:
Anguish and Dismay over Vatican Betrayal
Margaret C. Galitzin
More than a year and a half has passed since Benedict’s Letter to the Catholic Church in the People‘s Republic of China was signed. In it, he effectively asked China’s loyal and long-suffering underground Catholic Church to disband, come aboveground and join the Patriot Association Church, which is the Communist government-controlled church.
After the letter there was a first explosion of overly optimistic reports. The supposedly reputable ‘China experts” proposed that the Chinese government would immediately change its policy and even establish normal diplomatic relations with the Vatican before the opening of the Olympic games in Beijing. Things, of course, didn’t turn out that way. The great thaw expected by the Vatican hasn’t come, and China continues to persecute the underground Bishops and faithful as much or more than ever.
Cardinal Zen praises the Letter as a "starting point for dialogue" between Communist leaders & the Vatican
What has been the response of the underground Church to Benedict’s Letter? This is harder to know, since news is tightly controlled on the part of China. Some reports from the priests and religious of the underground Church are filtering out, however, and they are worth knowing. In its Christmas 2008 letter, the Cardinal Kung Foundation reproduced several documents worthy of careful attention. They are, moreover, just a “sampling” of the letters it is receiving from distressed members of the Chinese Underground Church. These missives, notes Joseph Kung, President of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, “express a lot of truth, untold misery and indescribable sorrow.” (1)
I invite the reader to look at the moving testimonies below that express the despair, anguish and sense of betrayal felt by the faithful Catholic clergy and faithful of China – who have resisted Communism for a half century only to find their effort undermined by the Pope and the Vatican.
Testimonies of the real ‘China experts’
One underground priest expresses his bewilderment over Vatican action since the Letter was issued. Because the Vatican is trying to come closer to the Chinese government, he notes, many priests belonging to the Patriotic Communist Church have been consecrated bishops and are recognized by the Vatican. “In contrast, the loyal and suffering underground Roman Catholic Church now appears to be considered an obstacle to the Vatican’s policy,” he says. This Vatican appeasement to the official Church is causing “unstableness and confusion in the underground Church…”
Another priest views the new situation with dismay: “All recent Vatican decisions appear to be so one-sided in favor of the Chinese government. For example, almost all the Chinese bishops recently appointed by the Vatican are from the official Church. Financial aid is zealously awarded to the projects sponsored by the official Church. In the meantime, the Vatican officials ‘actively encourage’ the underground Church religious to sacrificially accommodate the official Church’s position, and even encourage the underground faithful to join the official Church’s liturgies and sacraments.”
The Letter is causing confusion among the Catholic faithful
The same priest continues: “However, in spite to the effort by the Vatican to publicly merge the underground Church with the official Church, the local government is unwilling to give legal status and to offer jobs to the religious and other leaders of our underground Church.” Therefore, he concludes, “taking full advantage of support from the Vatican, using the Vatican’s own authority,” the Chinese government was able to realize in almost one year what the Chinese government was not able to implement for more than 50 years, that is, “a policy continuously condemned by all the Popes since 1949.”
He then adds: “Under this condition, why should the Chinese government be anxious to establish normal diplomatic relations with the Vatican? It is to the clear advantage to wait for the Vatican to give in completely until all the conditions set forth by the Chinese government are met by the Vatican!”
A seminarian writes: “It is so difficult for me to make a clear distinction any longer between black and white in the events and decisions made by the Vatican regarding issues with China. I have never felt so helpless. It is apparent that the Vatican’s practices have not been either to support or to understand the underground Catholic Church in China. The fact is that the Vatican is urging the suffering underground Catholic Church to gradually be merged with the official [Patriotic] Church…
“One might say that we, the underground Church have now been forced to the road of ruin not only by the persecution from the Chinese government, but also by the indecisiveness and appeasement of the Vatican. It was very difficult for me to accept these happenings when I first heard and understood them. They are so deplorable. I dare not inform the faithful in the underground Roman Catholic Church in China of these facts because I am afraid they will refuse to accept them.”
The consecration of Bishop Li Shan by the Patriotic Association was quickly recognized by the Vatican
Another seminarian studying in Europe makes a plea to the West to understand that the religious policy of the Chinese government has not changed. He criticizes the Vatican China experts who portray the underground Church in a very negative light, not seeing – ‘or purposely avoid seeing the persecutions that the underground faithful have suffered and continue to suffer and their brave efforts to defend their Church and protect their faith and love for the true Church and the Pope.”
An underground priest cannot contain his stupefaction that the Vatican could ask the underground Church to merge with the communist Church: “The Pope wants us to go public. We wish to respond to the Pope’s advice for the opening up of the underground Church and to be in communion with the brothers and sisters of the official Church. But the local government refuses to recognize our religious status, wants us to be reeducated in their official seminary in Beijing, and to accept the government’s political reeducation and examination. We will be allowed to carry on our pastoral work only if we pass all these reeducation requirements; otherwise we are still illegal.”
He continues that everyone in the underground Church knows what the reeducation program means – the acceptance of Communism. Reeducation in theology and political thought is “not simply a review of knowledge, but more importantly an attempt to change my viewpoint on faith and theology.” The result could well be “the betrayal of my faith and conscience.”
Another priest laments the new difficulties the underground Church faces “not from the Chinese government, but from the mis- or non-understanding and unfair accusations of so many Vatican-recognized ‘experts,” who are pushing for convergence.”
The Vatican refused to acknowledge the recent martyrdom of Bishop Han Ding Xiang
When the news of underground Bishop Han Ding Xiang mysterious death in government custody after an almost 8-year imprisonment was sent to the Vatican, one priest remarks on the disappointment caused among the faithful by the Vatican reply: “It was most disappointing that there was no reply, no expression and no action from the Vatican Congregation regarding this letter. It was reported instead that the letter could not be accepted since there was no signature on the letter” (it is customary for correspondence from the underground to have no signature so the writer cannot be identified and punished if the letter is intercepted by the Chinese authorities).
The priest continues: “Whether or not the letter has a signature is not important. The important thing is that Bishop Han has died in a Chinese jail for his Catholic faith as reported by the international media. … An open recognition from the Vatican would surely bring about a deep consolation to Bishop Han's diocese. It would also be an encouragement to the suffering underground Church. There was no such open recognition and celebration in the Vatican for Bishop Han’s martyrdom.”
If these are just samples, there should be much more. What is clear is the anguish and sense of betrayal on the part of the Catholic faithful over the one-sided appeasement policy of the Vatican. As one of the underground clergy notes, it is hard for the faithful to fathom “that the underground Roman Catholic Church is not only illegal under the laws of the Chinese government, but also in the eyes of the Vatican.”
Benedict opens the door to Communism
What could be more shocking than to see the Holy See asking the faithful Catholics who have opposed Communism for a half century to put aside their convictions and enter the communist-controlled church in the name of convergence and communion with the universal Church? In my opinion, the only more shocking thing is to see how anesthetized Catholic public opinion has become – accepting this betrayal as normal and par for the course. How far we are indeed from the days when Pius XII excommunicated anyone that voted for Communism… (2)
Today it is the Vatican itself who opens the door to Communism, full of smiles and embraces in the nefarious work of undermining the faith of so many Catholics. We really have to ask ourselves what is the effect of this over those who still resist Communism and dedicate themselves to this fight.
When the Pope himself calls for convergence with Communism, this swells the false media propaganda that Communism is dead. For the average man in the street, who has long since ceased to reason and lives from his impressions, the problem of Communism has apparently disappeared and, with it, the need to fight against it. Benedict XVI urging the Underground Chinese Church to compromise helps to maintain this false idea and deviates sharply from the mission Our Lord gave the Vicar of Christ “to feed His sheep.”
Benedict's call for reconciliation with China's Communist regime betrays the papal mission
Even more, those who do protest against this policy either in China or elsewhere are considered the “bad guys,” the ones who are “going against the wishes of the Holy Father.” I hardly need to emphasize how all this erodes Catholic resistance and spirit.
It is a diabolically subtle action to enter and eat away at the authentic Catholic reaction, instilling in the faithful indifference toward any militant position against Communism. What we are seeing is an effort – and a very effective one – to anesthetize public opinion and make Communism a non-issue, irrelevant in a relativist and confused world.
The worst part is, in my opinion, the silence of many traditionalists in face of this betrayal. This silence implies consent, allowing the remaining barriers against Communism to fall.
1. Cardinal Kung Foundation December 2008 newsletter, http://www.cardinalkungfoundation.org
2. In July 1949, Pius XII formally excommunicated all members of the Communist party and anyone who aided or abetted it. He furthermore declared that it was not permissible for any Catholic to publish, distribute or read books, periodicals, paper or pamphlets preaching the doctrine of Communism, or to write in them, and that those who did so faced excommunication. The Robinson Library online, Pope Pius XIIFootnotes:
Posted March 9, 2009
Related Topics of Interest
A Shameful Silence
Aftermath of the Papal Letter to Chinese Catholics
Benedict Delivers Chinese Underground Catholics to Communism
The Cheese and the Mousetrap
Has the Pope Forgotten What Communism Is?
Reactions to Benedict’s Letter to China
The Motu Proprio, After the Emotions
Where is the Catholic Resistance?
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