CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 March 2017

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Tweaking Church teaching with Chinese characteristics

CHONGQING (UCAN): A conference was held in July this year involving the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China at which each seminary on the mainland was required to present a paper explaining how the recommendations of the Central Disciplinary Committee of the Communist Party, published subsequent to its inspection of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, are being implemented.

The Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference have a charter from the government to assist in the implementation of the recommendations and ensure that the curriculum is being taught in line with government policy.

An article posted on UCAN on September 30 under the name of Jia Ruohan, from Chongqing, says that one of the main points on the agenda was the revision of Teaching Materials for the Independent and Self-governing Catholic Church in China, a document that was originally compiled by the Patriotic Association in 2002.

“It is understandable that seminaries need to publish teaching materials,” Jia says, “but the new curriculum is not the normal teaching of the Church, because it has a strong political overtone.”

He said that a report from the Administration of Religious Affairs was read out at the conference suggesting, or perhaps actually demanding that all educational materials encourage the Sinicisation (Chinafied theology) of the Chinese Catholic Church and leave significant space for adequate reflection on the significance of what the president, Xi Jinping, referred to as the China Dream.

The term was popularised by Xi after he became general secretary of the Communist Party in November 2012, when he said on a visit to the National Museum of China that people should dare to dream, work assiduously to fulfill the dreams and contribute to the revitalisation of the nation to its former greatness.

Jia pointed out that the meeting with the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference also stressed that all teaching should be aligned with the four self-confidence philosophy promoted by Xi at a party congress on July 1 this year.

He quotes Xi as saying, “(The party should) not forget its original aim. It should continue to walk ahead, with self-confidence, maintain… socialism with Chinese characteristics, with self-confidence about its theory, self-confidence about its system and with self-confidence about its culture; unswervingly adhering to the party’s basic line and continuously pushing forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Jia says that this is a clear illustration of whose reality the party is demanding to have instituted within the Church in China, but following this line would certainly introduce significant distortions into the essential teaching of the Church and cause a number of problems.

Jia calls this a manipulation of Church teaching, as using Communist Party history, the veracity of which cannot be verified, to explain doctrine would just be a distortion of the reality of the Church.

“If history is tweaked and spun, how can it provide an accurate reflection or reasonable explanation of Church doctrine and discipline?” he queries.

He adds that a further question that needs to be asked is how anyone can arbitrarily interpret doctrine based simply on the current mood of the government.

“If this was a valid academic approach, then everyone could interpret and change doctrine at any time. This is totally in contradiction with the philosophy of a universal Church,” Jia continued.

He described the four self-confidence approach of the president as only being an idea without any grounding in reason or reality and, in all events, it is just a slogan that he put forward at a party congress.

An article by Chen Shuiyong, an associate professor at the Ideology and Politics Department of Guangdong University of Education, explains the political meaning of the principle as eliminating the psychology of worshipping everything foreign.

China is currently making a big push to eliminate the influence of foreign values from daily life.

“The substantial behaviour of worshipping foreign things is having blind faith in everything that comes from the west, readily copying western life style, value system and development model,” Chen says in his article.

However, Jia says that the four self-confidence principle has nothing to do with confidence at all, but is merely a narrow-minded xenophobia. “Under such a mentality, we would be an isolated country with our door closed to everyone,” Jia claims.

“If these beliefs infect the teaching materials of our seminaries then I fear that the Church’s position will be lost and replaced with a Church with Chinese characteristics, contradicting its essential, universal nature,” he commented.

Jia added that the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference are not helping in the development of healthy seminaries, but have sunk to becoming accomplices of the authorities in finally destroying all semblance of independence in the Church.

He said that although the conference was promulgated as an opportunity to discuss the feedback of the central inspection team after its review of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and suggest ways of rectifying shortcomings, in reality it was a butcher’s knife designed to hack away at the fundamental rights of the Church.

“The Catholic Church in China is gradually coming under the control of the government authorities and the primacy of the Holy See is being eroded by the establishment of a Church with Chinese characteristics,” Jia concludes.

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