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China schedules Catholic Congress for Boxing Day

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Ninth Congress of Catholic Representatives, which is only open to approved, government-recognised office holders from the official Catholic community and normally held in early December, has been put off until after Christmas.

The congress, which is scheduled as an every five years event, has already been postponed for 12 months in order to accommodate talks between the Vatican and Beijing, but this further postponement, even though it is only by a couple of weeks puts an extra hurdle on the Holy See path.

Father Jeroom Hendryckx, the director of the Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation at Leuven Catholic University in Belgium, said he believes that the congress sits above the bishops’ conference and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in the pecking order of key policy-making bodies.

He added that the fact that it is being held this year adds further complexity to the Vatican-Beijing negotiations.

Clergy, sisters and lay people are scheduled to attend the congress, which has now been penciled in for December 26 to 30.

They will elect new leaders for the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church of China.

For all government-recognised bishops a no show would be judged as a serious sin against the government.

The congress is scheduled for less than a month after a bishop declared by the Vatican to have incurred self-excommunication gatecrashed two episcopal ordinations, one in Chengdu and the other in Xichang, and eight months after China’s religion summit, where the Communist Party elite stressed the need to Sinicise the Church and give it Chinese characteristics.

However, a researcher in Beijing said that he believes the congress will not bring any significant changes.

“The last congress already brought in a new generation of young leaders. So it may be similar to the recent National Congress of the Chinese Islamic Association, which closed on November 28. They just fine tuned their constitution, passed all the motions and made a response to the call of Sinicisation,” the researcher commented.

Even so, most Catholics oppose the meeting. They despise those who attend the congress because they endorse China’s independent Church principle, which Pope Benedict XVI said in his letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, is incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

About 40 bishops attended the last congress in 2010, after which the Vatican expressed profound sorrow over the way it was run, with some bishops reportedly forced to attend under duress.

The Vatican and Beijing are currently working on a deal that may finalise the status of 50 Vatican-approved bishops or candidates in the official and unofficial Catholic communities in China.

The Vatican is also considering doing something to regularise the status of eight bishops who were ordained with government-backing and without permission from the pope.

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