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Maybe new music but still the same dance

HONG KONG (UCAN): An update on rules and regulations covering the operation of bishops in China issued by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in late June are not much more than a reiteration of the current situation and only attracted attention in the wake of the dramatic announcement by Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin at his ordination Mass in Shanghai on July 7 that he would quit his position in the Patriotic Association, according to some bishops who are recognised by the Holy See.

The new measures demand that all bishops submit an application form and testimonials to the Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China. The two government bureaucracies then verify the information and submit the material to the State Administration for Religious Affairs to be filed.

Bishop Ma was ordained as an auxiliary for his diocese and drew warm applause from the congregation when he made his announcement at the end of his ordination Mass. He is the first bishop in years to do such a thing, but has since been barred from his ministry as a bishop.

Some bishops believe that the 16-clause document is aimed at strengthening the power of the Patriotic Association, a body which has been in verbal confrontation with the Vatican, which says its existence is incompatible with church teaching.

A Vatican-approved and government-recognised bishop from central China described the document as a pretext for more control and added that he believes it will be counter-productive, as any attempt to wield such control will not work.

However, another bishop in good standing with both the Vatican and the government from eastern China said he thinks there is no need to make a fuss over this measure when China and the Vatican do not have diplomatic relations.

“We understand the Chinese government wants to manipulate everything. It is to challenge Rome and tells the world Beijing has control over religions, including the Catholic Church,” he told UCA News.

He went on to describe the document as just repeating the old tune sung by the Regulation on Religious Affairs in 2005 that already contains this requirement.

Although the song may not have changed, the new music could make it more difficult to dance to and, in all events, it is hard to dance with the devil on your back.

He said he believes the Shanghai ordination prompted the government to carry out the measure and give it a certain amount of fanfare.

“Officials may warn Bishop Ma that the State Administration for Religious Affairs has not received his record, so he cannot exercise his ministry,” the bishop explained.

One of the clauses states that the State Administration for Religious Affairs will not keep archival record of bishops who are not approved by official Church bodies.

“He would not be able to hold any religious activities in his capacity as a bishop, could not represent his diocese to perform any duties and could not serve as the diocese’s legally assigned person,” it states.

Two other bishops who are not recognised by the government say they believed the new measure only targets the official bishops.

One of them, Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi, from Qiqihar, who learned about the policy from the Internet, believes the Shanghai incident pushed the government to implement the archive filing measure.

He added that the irony is that the government is not satisfied with the performance of some bishops selected through its own process of self-election and self-ordination.

There are nearly 100 Catholic bishops in mainland China, about one-third of whom are not recognised by the government.

Bishop Peter, who is also not recognised by Beijing, said the measure does not comply with the Code of Canon Law.

He said that in his opinion it only relates to a bishops’ conference regulation designed to establish a standard practice within the official Church community.

“It is just a trial. But if it really succeeds, it might cause a certain amount of restriction on us (the unofficial Church community),” Bishop Peter added. “For the moment, the government is placing emphasis on maintaining a harmonious society. Overall harmony gives us space for survival.”

Bishop Wei said he believes that lower-level officials may implement the measure differently from its original intent, while local dioceses may cooperate to varying degrees. He said that as a result, he doubts it will have a particularly severe effect across the country.

“The measure is a tool to use the bishops to damage the foundation of the Church,” a Church observer remarked. “It is against the Chinese constitution and international law in regards to religious freedom. It should not use registration to control the Church, which leads to the creation of a national Church.”

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