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Vatican must play ball too Guangdong official says

HONG KONG (UCAN): Lu Guocun, a senior public servant from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, has rebuffed claims by the Vatican that the Communist regime does not recognise the distinction between Church and state.

Lu, who is now in his 70s, is accusing the Vatican of playing politics and overlooking the faith life of Chinese Catholics.

The government official has headed the Patriotic Association in Guangdong province for almost three decades, served as national vice-president and is now honorary president of the government bureaucracy in his province.

He told UCA News in mid-August that the tense atmosphere that has followed the ordination of Father Thaddeus Ma Daqin as an auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, where he publicly announced that he would be resigning from his position in the Patriotic Association, has attracted global publicity, which irks the authorities in Beijing.

Bishop Ma has been reported to have gone on retreat at Sheshan Seminary on the outskirts of Beijing immediately after his July 7 ordination and has not appeared in public since.

Lu said that he believes Bishop Ma’s resignation is a personal decision. “If he wants to put on a show, he can do it,” he added, suggesting that it was the publicity that irked the Chinese authorities rather than the announcement itself.

Referring to recent controversies over the appointments of bishops in China and the participation of illicit bishops in Vatican-approved ordination ceremonies, Lu said that it is the Holy See that has been responsible for the division in the Church since the late 1950s, when it threatened to excommunicate self-elected and self-ordained bishops, despite mediation in which the then-premier, Zhou Enlai, took part.

Lu said that in his opinion, Rome has not changed its stance since that time. “The Vatican is playing more politics than China,” he said.

However, Lu stressed that he is convinced that “the pope is never against the Chinese people or the Communist government,” but he is simply misled by his assistants and aides, who “have different ideas, don’t like the Communist Party and are ready to do anything against it.”

He added that if the Vatican was willing to talk seriously with China, an agreed mechanism for the selection of bishops, like the one currently in place in Vietnam, could be devised.

Vietnam recently opened a level of diplomatic relations with the Vatican and in recent years both sides have partnered a system that allows the appointment of bishops from an agreed list of candidates.

Lu stressed that he believes that the original purpose of the Patriotic Association—to act as a bridge between the Church and the Communist leaders—is as valid today as it was in the 1950s when it was set up.

He said that the Church has benefitted thanks to the association’s official links and its ability to funnel assistance to the Church for the restoration of buildings and resourcing of pastoral programmes.

In his own backyard, he pointed to the restoration between 2003 and 2005 of the cathedral in Guangzhou as an example, which was largely paid for by municipal authorities, thanks to the intercession of the Patriotic Association.

“The Patriotic Association is a social organisation and it is simpler for the government to deal with a social organisation than a religion,” Lu said.

He added that it is also thanks to the association that the Church has been able to grow and “change the minds of the people.”

However, he admitted that despite an improvement in relations between Catholics and the government, there hasn’t been a big success in the field of evangelisation.

He explained that he believes that the Church still has an image problem among the Chinese people, being largely perceived as a foreign religion serving colonial powers.

Expanding on that point, he said that only the bridging associations for the Catholic and Protestant Churches bear the word patriotic in their names, while the Buddhist, Taoist and Muslim associations do not.

“The Vatican rejected the Patriotic Association first,” Lu claims. 

He added that he thinks the Vatican needs to put its bias aside and continue to talk if it wants to help the growth of the Church in China.

“The Patriotic Association has always been working for the good of the Church, helping—among other things—the government to improve its management of religions. We don’t want to be blamed by the people,” he concluded.

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