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Underground Church Resists
A Rome-Beijing Agreement

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
My friend Jan recently asked me about the present situation of the Underground Church in China. Since my report on Benedict's Letter to the China's Catholics in 2007, inviting the Underground Church to greater rapprochement with the Communism-oriented Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), TIA has published other articles on the reactions of the faithful in the Underground Church (here, here and here), as well as on the Vatican's open support of the CPA since the John Paul II papacy.

Benedict's Letter is ambiguous; it can be interpreted in two ways:

Francis and Card. Parolin

Card. Parolin and Francis – supporting the Communist-governed CPA

• One group of “conservatives” insists that – despite Benedict's invitation to the Underground Church to merge with the CPA and his revoking of the faculties that allowed underground Bishops to ordain other Bishops and priests – his Letter was not an invitation to compromise, but only to dialogue, since in it he affirmed the CPA was "incompatible" with the Catholic Faith.

In this camp is Card. Joseph Zen Ze-Kuin, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, who since his retirement has spoken for the Underground Church in the present battle.

• A progressivist party – backed by Vatican Secretary of State Card. Pietro Parolin – insists that Benedict simply continued the “conciliatory policy” toward the CPA that calls for dialogue to achieve one Church in China. Its adherents hold that the Underground Church must unite with the Communist CPA after a suitable agreement is reached between Beijing and Rome over the selection of Bishops.

With this agreement with the Communist Government, “full communion between the Church in China and the Universal Church” will be achieved and the long desired Rome-Beijing diplomatic relationship with Rome will be established. But, what is the price for such "unity"?

This is the question to be addressed here since the Vatican has stepped up the pace in pursuing the conciliatory policy. The situation has gotten very hot in China with Francis at the helm of the ship, determined to forge a union with China and get an invitation from Beijing for the long-anticipated visit in his Year of Mercy. The reactions are escalating daily both at the Vatican and in China.

A breakthrough on appointment of Bishops

Disregarding the increase in the persecution of the Catholic Church in the Catacombs (here and here), Francis continues to smile and extend an olive branch to communist President Xi Jinping.

Earlier this year, he sent Chinese Lunar New Year's greeting to President Xi, offering effusive praise of the country's rich culture and past. Anyone who has read about the Communist Cultural Revolution that Mao inflicted on the Chinese people in the 1960s knows that the authentically rich Chinese culture was brutally suppressed and replaced by Communism with a vulgar egalitarian lifestyle that included denial of private property, a brutal one-child policy, forced abortion and sterilization.

meeting bishops china

China's CPA Bishops' Conference is openly controlled by the Communist government ( photo)

Ignoring that bloody campaign that killed 2 million people, sent 4 million to concentration camps and violently persecuted priests and religious, Francis praised China for "moving forward" and avoided any mention of its continued abuse of human rights – a subject about which he is implacable when abuses occur in the West.

In late January the Vatican held its third round of negotiations with the Chinese delegation in Rome and reports started to circulate of a “breakthrough” on the critical topic of the appointment of Bishops. A fourth “secret” meeting in April reportedly had “successful” results, with a working group formed to study the details of these appointments (Cardinal Kung Foundation Newsletter, August 2016 report).

According to news releases, these are the demands that Beijing put on the table, which the Vatican seems willing to accept:
  • The Holy See will give full recognition to all the Patriotic Association bishops, including the eight whom the Vatican had previously condemned;

  • The Vatican will officially approve the government's Council of Bishops, which will “democratically elect” new candidates to the episcopacy, excluding underground Catholic Bishops;

  • The Holy See will approve the Council's appointment, with only a weak right of veto in “severe” cases. However, if the Vatican's reasons are considered “insufficient,” the government Council of Bishops may proceed anyway with the consecrations of new bishops.
This one-sided agreement gives the Communist government control over appointing bishops and official recognition of the Government-sponsored Church (CPA) and its Council of Bishops. For the faithful Underground Church, however, the Vatican agreement with the CPA reinforces the call to merge with the CPA in order to achieve Rome's goal of "full communion."

public meeting

Some underground Catholics are already meeting in public places they rent for study & prayer ...

What would be the point of its existence if the Vatican gives the Chinese government the power to appoint bishops and to govern the Catholic Church in China? How could the Underground Church persist? What would stop the Communist government from taking even sterner measures to suppress any remnant resistance to its authority?

Many Chinese underground Bishops and priests have been prepared for this capitulation to the Communist CPA. In fact, some dioceses are already making efforts at reconciliation, based on their reading of Benedict's Letter.

But others are resisting any compromise with the CPA and its illegitimate authorities. Now, these Catholics are even more confused, as reports sift though claiming that the communist Church will choose bishops and the illegitimate bishops will be approved by Rome. In effect, if they resist, they become the unrecognized ones, the ones who are not following the Pope and his decrees. The whole situation turns on its head.

Card. Zen changes hats & speaks the truth

This disturbing situation has found a spokesman in Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong Card. Zen who is speaking forcefully against the Sino-Vatican agreement before it becomes official. It is never late to take a good position. Indeed Zen in the past has praised Benedict's Letter and compromised with the CPA. Now, he is supporting the good side.

In a "Painful Appeal" on his personal blog, Card. Zen addresses the question and calls for resistance on the part of the Underground Church. “Can the Pope sign such an agreement?” he asks.

card zen

Cardinal Zen: calls for resistance to the Beijing-Rome agreement that hands over bishops' choice to the CPA

“Do our officials in Rome know what an election is in China?” he continues. “Do they know that the so-called Episcopal Conference is not only illegitimate, but simply does not exist? What exists is an organism that is called ‘One Association and One Conference,’ namely the Patriotic Association and the Bishops' Conference which always work together as one body, which is always chaired by government officials (there are pictures to prove it, the government does not even try more to keep up appearances, it starkly flaunts the fact that they now manage religion!).”

Zen further states: “Signing such an agreement means delivering the authority to appoint bishops into the hands of an atheist government.”

If the agreement is signed, he warns, even with the Pope's approval, China's Catholics should refuse to follow insofar as it goes “against their principle of faith.” It is not possible for the faithful of the Underground Church “to come out and surrender to those who were illegitimate bishops for a long time.”

Zen warned that the faithful Catholics who refuse to compromise and do not accept the Sino-Vatican agreement may find themselves in the conditions experienced by Chinese Catholics in the dark and ferocious years of the Cultural Revolution. Nonetheless, he urges them to resist any merger with the government controlled CPA.

What has been the reaction to date of the Vatican and the Chinese Underground Church to the “resistance” proposed by Cardinal Zen? The next article will answer that question.



Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted October 19, 2016

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