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Government plans for Church rubber stamped

HONG KONG (SE): The two government bodies that hold official authority within the Catholic Church in China, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, readily rubber stamped plans presented by the government for the coming year.

A meeting was convened by the president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, in Beijing on February 25 between the leaders of the two quasi-Church bodies and the two government departments that wield the real stick over religious affairs, the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the United Front Work Department.

UCAN reported that an online report shows that it is anticipated that the coming year will be pretty much business as usual, despite recent rumours that a new era of cooperation between Church and state was on the cusp of being born.

The particular point over which hopes had been raised, the appointment and ordination of bishops, had a bit of cold water poured on it, as the online report specifically states that bishops will be ordained under the leadership of the government and priests who have to date failed to register with the Patriotic Association will be converted from their wayward ways and come into the fold of the official, government-blessed Church.

The report also comments that the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference are in the process of preparing for the first gathering since 2010 of the controversial National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, a type of summit of the two quasi government bodies responsible for controlling the Church, which is widely expected to be held sometime this year.

Tensions ran high at the previous assembly, as many bishops are believed to have been coerced into attending and three illicitly ordained bishops were also present.

The meeting was postponed several times, as many bishops refused to turn up, which was believed to be prompted by the 2007 letter from Pope Benedict XVI penned to Chinese Catholics saying that the bishops’ conference and the Patriotic Association are both irreconcilable with Catholic faith.

The 2010 assembly also elected the three illicitly ordained bishops to executive positions in the two bodies, with Father Joseph Guo Jincai, from Chengde, who had been ordained a bishop only a few months previously and to whom the Vatican still gives no recognition at all, being made secretary general of the bishops’ conference.

Bishop Ma, from Kunming, who was ordained illicitly in 2006, was elected as president of the conference and the other one, Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, from Mindong, who was ordained in 2000, was named as a vice-president of the conference.

In Hong Kong, the Justice and Peace Commission staged a protest outside the China Liaison Office in Western, claiming that the three-day assembly violates Canon Law and undermines the freedom and normal operation of the Church in China.

The commission also noted that the Chinese authorities had to use violence and pressure to coerce bishops and lay people into coming, holding some in isolation or taking them into custody, violating the religious freedom and rights of Chinese Catholics.

“Talk with the Vatican with sincerity, with a fair and pragmatic attitude, so the mainland Church can operate in a normal manner,” a statement presented to the mainland representatives in Hong Kong by the commission said.

Held in the Friendship Hotel in Beijing, the 2010 assembly ran under the theme of To support patriotism and independent Church principles, resist outside forces and unite all clergy and Catholics to walk the path of socialist society.

The term independent in this context is usually interpreted as meaning autonomy from Rome and outside forces as influence from the Holy See.

It is believed by some that it was this assembly that put the freeze on Holy See-Beijing relations for a number of years.

A communiqué released by the Holy See on 17 December 2010 says, “The manner in which it was convoked and its unfolding manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China.”

The statement continues with a condemnation of the encroachment of the authorities in Beijing into the consciences of people, saying, “The persistent desire on behalf of the Chinese authorities to control even the most intimate areas of people’s lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere with the internal life of the Catholic Church, does no credit to China.”

At the time, the Vatican said the actions of China “manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China.”

UCAN reported that on March 2 this year, a Chinese researcher noted that the Buddhist and Daoist associations have already met and elected new leaders, making it likely that the Catholic associations also would meet.

He believes that illicitly ordained bishops will again be elected to executive positions, saying that Bishop Ma, being a capable person, could have a good chance of being re-elected.

“Yet, the State Administration of Religious Affairs would make a number of considerations, including the health and willingness of the bishops and whether they would follow the party’s line,” the researcher said.

A bishop who asked not to be named noted that “whether to convene the congress is decided not by the Church, but by the high level (government) and depends much on the outcome of China-Vatican negotiations.”

All the Church proposals were outlined in the work plan published on February 2 after its national directors meeting held in mid-January.

 

“The Church has no autonomy. It is really a government-run Church,” a priest who identified himself as Father Joseph, commented.

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