Print Version    Email to Friend
Government show in Beijing trumps Church show in Shanghai

HONG KONG (UCAN): The State Administration for Religious Affairs hosted a five-day workshop at a training centre in Beijing on the instructions of the central government as a commemoration of the centennial of the birth of the former bishop of Shanghai, the late Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian.

Five Church representatives from each province were chosen to attend the five-day gathering, which participants said was running from June 20 to 24.

All up, the Catholic Church had about 150 representatives at the gathering—lay people, sisters, priests and bishops.

They described the purpose of the five days as coming to understand and appreciate the spirit of the National Conference of Religious Work, which was held in April.

China Church watchers believe the workshop is a further sign that the Communist Party is inserting itself more deeply into Church affairs, after the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection put a rocket up the State Administration for Religious Affairs on June 6 for its failure to control religious groups and ensure that laws governing the practice of religion were being enforced.

Although the critical report was couched in the terminology of corruption, Bao Lu, a commentator on Church affairs, noted, “These findings are not about corruption. They are about urging State Administration for Religious Affairs officials to implement strict management and control on religions.”

He wrote in a report, “The inspection team suggests full implementation of the party’s religious policy.”

However, the command performance in Beijing to bring Church leaders up to speed on the party line is believed to have been primarily designed to take the wind out of the sails of a seminar planned for Shanghai on June 20, the actual day of Bishop Jin’s centenary.

It is believed to be a way of dampening the influence the memory of the late bishop is perceived to have on the Church in China.

“It is party tactics to use an event for multiple purposes,” one observer commented.

Shanghai diocese had invited a number of bishops who hold positions in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China and those in neighbouring provinces to attend its planned seminar.

“But many bishops in different parts of China have to attend the workshop in Beijing,” a person in Shanghai pointed out, adding that although the seminar has been postponed until June 28, the government show in Beijing effectively trumped the Church show in Shanghai.

While some of those in Beijing were only told they had to attend a couple of weeks or so prior to the event, the Shanghai gathering had been gazetted for months.

Church observers pointed to a June 11 article posted on the popular Tianya Club internet forum, opposing the attendance of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin at the Shanghai seminar, saying that it was an informal way of allowing him to come out of confinement and take up his ministry as bishop of the diocese.

Bishop Ma has been under house arrest at Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai since he publicly announced his resignation from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association at his ordination ceremony on 7 July 2012.

An article written by Yifeng Chulin, a commentator on Church affairs, was posted on International Outlook, a sub-forum that often hosts fierce debates between rightist and the leftist commentators.

Yifeng is known for his close observation of the diocese of Shanghai and is recognised as being informative on dynamics within the Church in China.

“He sees the Church in a negative way, but is believed to have back-up from Beijing,” a Catholic blogger, who asked not to be named, said.

Yifeng disclosed that religious officials in Shanghai had asked permission from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the United Front Work Department—a Communist Party organisation that oversees the activities of the religious affairs bureau—to allow Bishop Ma to be freed from confinement, as well as to hold the high profile seminar to commemorate the legacy of the late Bishop Jin.

He claims that given the delicate role in the China Church and China-Vatican relations that Bishop Jin played, a seminar held after the National Conference of Religious Work would send a message to the outside world that China recognises Bishop Jin and his way of leading the Church.

“But this would reduce the basis of our work on the Catholic Church and have a negative effect on the Ninth National Congress of the Catholic Representatives,” Yifeng continued, adding that there is a wide gap in views between officials in Beijing and Shanghai on Bishop Jin.

When the Eighth National Congress of Catholic Representatives was convened in 2010, the Holy See said in a statement that it was sorry to see the manner the congress was “convoked and its unfolding manifested a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty.”

Yifeng also suspects that the series of articles appearing under the name of Bishop Ma commemorating Bishop Jin was a pretense that he had repented for the hostility he showed against the government four years ago and a ploy to get himself out of confinement.

On June 12, the day after Yifeng’s article was posted, the fifth and most controversial article appeared on Bishop Ma’s blog sparking widespread discussion.

It says that the caged bishop had been deceived by others and that he now regrets his decision to quit the Patriotic Association, while chanting its praises.

The Patriotic Association was established in the early 1950s in order to control Church activity in China. Almost all of the 97 dioceses registered with the government have established a local unit of the association.

More from this section