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Benedict Delivers Chinese Catholics to Communism

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Many people are commenting on the Motu Proprio released July 7. Hardly anyone seems to have noticed its ugly sister, a much longer document – 18 pages in its English version – discreetly released by the Vatican at noon June 30. I am referring to the Letter of Benedict XVI to the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China. It is an extraordinary open letter that signifies a delivering of the underground Chinese Catholic Church to Communism.

Religious perspective

On the religious level, Benedict quite calmly and eloquently tells the heroic Chinese Catholic resistance against Communism that the way of the future is to unite with the government-sponsored Patriotic Church.

Benedict XVI

Benedict urges the underground Catholics
to accept the Patriotic Church
As most readers are surely aware, there are two religious realities in China, the faithful underground Roman Catholic Church that has been fiercely persecuted by the Communist government for more than a half-century, and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), established in 1957 and directed by the Communist government. It appoints its own bishops and priest, and officially declares its autonomy from the Pope.

To be faithful to her mission, the Church has always maintained the impossibility of reconciling with Communism. How could it be otherwise? The Communist doctrine clashes head on with Catholic doctrine in many dogmatic and moral points. It also denies basic tenets the Church holds on private property and family, contradicting several Commandments. Therefore, since the 1950s, the Vatican always supported those underground Catholics who opposed Communism and were faithful to Rome, granting them special concessions to ordain their Bishops and priests. Simultaneously, to stress its support for the underground Catholics, Rome denied the CCPA’s authority to ordain bishops and priests, did not recognize any of them, and excommunicated them. That is, the CCPA and its members were condemned for its bad doctrine and incurred schism.

It is necessary to say that to this date neither the CCPA nor its boss, the Communist regime, have made any change in its policy toward the Catholic religion.

Notwithstanding, the recent letter of Benedict XVI turned the thus-far coherent position of the Holy See in China upside-down. Yes, he acknowledges those Catholics who have suffered for fidelity and loyalty to the Pope. But he also recommends that they submit to the Communist-oriented CCPA, saying that “authentic communion” demands “arduous efforts of reconciliation.” Indeed, forgetting that he was dealing with a Communist association, he states:
"The purification of memory, the pardoning of wrong-doers, the forgetting of injustices suffered and the loving restoration to serenity of troubled hearts … can require moving beyond personal positions or viewpoints, born of painful or difficult experiences. These are urgent steps that must be taken if the bonds of communion between the faithful and the Pastors of the Church in China are to grow and be made visible.”
A religious ceremony of the Patriotic Church in China

Religious ceremony in the Patriotic Church
under Communist supervision
Thus his letter to China goes on saying that it is time for the underground Church to forgive all past “wrongdoings,” and for the two sides to dissolve “tensions, divisions and recriminations” to reconcile in “authentic communion.”

Finally, Benedict revokes “all previously granted faculties and directives designed to address particular necessities in truly difficult times.”

What does this mean? Nothing less that wiping away those directives by his predecessors granting special privileges to the underground Church, e.g.:
  • The faculties that allowed underground Catholic Bishops to ordain other Bishops and priests;

  • Directives advising the underground Catholics to avoid receiving sacraments from bishops or priests who belonged to the CCPA;

  • The 1988 guideline that said any bishop ordained by CCPA would incur an automatic excommunication.
All this was wiped out, in the name of unity and communion, and to facilitate the establishment of Vatican relations with red Beijing.

It is a scandal, a betrayal of those Catholics who, shedding their blood, have maintained their fidelity to the See of Peter without compromises.

Coexistence of persecutors and victims

In his letter, Benedict lays out the three groups of bishops in Communist China, and offers solutions for all - since they are all “sons of the Chinese people” so that a “respectful and constructive dialogue” might begin.

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Above, underground Bishop Chang, 24 years in prison for his allegiance to the Pope. Below, CCPA bishops enjoy freedom, promoting abortion and one-child per family law

M014_cpabishops.jpg - 31575 Bytes

First, there are the “clandestine Bishops” faithful to Catholic tradition and in communion with the Successor of Peter. He encourages them, insomuch as it is possible, to apply for recognition by the civil authorities. In return he asks that the Communist government also recognize “these legitimate Pastors.”

Overlooking that the Primitive Church lived in the Catacombs for more than 200 years, he points out that an underground Church “is not a normal and lasting situation” for the Catholic Church. Implying that the immutable doctrine of the Church has now changed, he asks the underground Catholic Church to surface and swim in the tide of Communism.

Second, Benedict observes that we have those “other pastors” who were made bishops by the Communist government and subsequently asked to be recognized by the Pope. He wants to assure all the Chinese people that “the Pope has granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction” because of his “profound pastoral concern to favor the establishment of full communion.”

Most of the true Catholic faithful, however, have refused to recognize those bishops who were created by and follow the orientation of the Communist government. Now, Benedict tells the underground Catholics that they should publicly recognize those CCPA bishops. They must accept and grant them the same respect they have for the Bishops of the underground Church. That is, the Pope accepts the state-appointed Bishops who have cooperated with the Communist regime and obliges their opponents to submit to them.

Third, Benedict encourages those state-appointed bishops who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate and who have not asked for it to seek the necessary legitimization. In the meantime, the faithful can consider the sacraments received by them as “illegitimate, but valid.” The consequence:
“Therefore the faithful, taking this into account, where the eucharistic celebration and the other sacraments are concerned, must, within the limits of the possible, seek Bishops and priests who are in communion with the Pope: nevertheless, where this cannot be achieved without grave inconvenience, they may, for the sake of their spiritual good, turn also to those who are not in communion with the Pope.”
As far as I can see this is a call for the faithful to go to the Patriotic Church.

Then he invites the three groups to join together to form a single Episcopal Conference, to achieve the aim of governing together in communion. Persecutors and victims living together...

Let it be duly noted that the letter includes a reaffirmation of the Vatican’s right to appoint Bishops, calls on China’s Communist rulers to respect “authentic religious freedom,” and notes that the Chinese Patriotic Association is “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”

All rhetoric and speechifying aside, what is being conceded is simple enough: “Well, we will not admit that you can name bishops, but we will accept the bishops you name …”

Political perspective: Communism is no longer a problem

M014_Pope_Zen.jpg - 26822 Bytes

Card. Zen of Hong Hong praises Benedict's letter as
"a common starting point for dialogue" ...

In his letter addressed to an estimated 10 million Chinese Catholics loyal to the Holy See, Benedict never mentions Communism. Instead, he reassures the Chinese government that the Vatican offers no political challenge to its authority, that the Church “does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the State.” He also asks Catholics in China to be good and respectful citizens and "active contributors to the common good in their country."

The message to the Chinese Catholics? That the Church and the Communist regime can be allied in dialogue, and that Catholics can be good Chinese Communist citizens.

The first reaction of China’s CCPA was to praise Benedict’s letter. “This is different from earlier papal letters,” said Liu Bainian, deputy head of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. “Earlier papal letters were opposed to Communism and the Socialist system. They wanted to punish members of China’s patriotic church. Now the situation is different. The pope wants to better understand China’s church.”

Abandonment of Taiwan

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Our Lady of China, help the underground Catholics remain steadfast in their opposition to Communism
For years the Communist government has insisted on two conditions for the normalization of relations: First, that the Vatican surrender the authority to appoint members of the clergy. Second, that the Vatican break off ties with Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, and establish its capital in Beijing.

In a note attached to the document, Benedict affirmed that the Vatican was ready to move its diplomatic representation from Taiwan to Beijing “at any time.” The Vatican officially committed itself to meet one of China’s conditions for dialogue.

It is a second betrayal, on the political level, of Taiwan as the representative of anti-Communist China.

Several hours after publication of the letter, the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Beijing released a terse communiqué reiterating China’s pre-conditions to restoration of diplomatic relations: The Vatican must sever its so-called diplomatic ties with Taiwan and “recognize the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China,” and promise it will “never interfere in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.” Strangely, the Vatican media reported this rude response as “a sign of modest progress” (“Subdued but predictable reactions in China to Pope’s Letter, Asia News, July 2, 2007).

Underground Chinese Bishops, priests and faithful, betrayed by the Pope they always supported, may understandably be plunged into an enormous spiritual trial. We must pray they will remain steadfast in resisting any coexistence with the Communist regime, be it promoted by CCPA or, something much harder, by the Vatican itself.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted July 13, 2007

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