HONG KONG (UCAN): An article published by John Cardinal Tong Hon in the Sunday Examiner on February 12 suggesting possible ways for Church-state relations in China to move forward appears to have received a subtle snub from Beijing.
A special pilgrimage to the tomb of the first bishop to be ordained illegitimately in China during a meeting held between the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in Wuhan from February 21 to 22 is being interpreted as a rejection of Cardinal Tong’s overture.
Bishop Bernardine Dong Guangqing was ordained in Wuhan without papal approval in 1958.
On February 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the delegations from the two government-run departments paid their respects at his tomb.
Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, the president of the bishops’ conference who is also not recognised by the Vatican, sang the praises of the late Bishop Dong for his contribution to the development of the Church in China.
Bishop Peter Fang Xingyao, the chairperson of the Patriotic Association who does have Vatican recognition, was even more effusive, calling the Church in Wuhan a true model of an independent Church.
In another learning session organised for staff of both organisations on February 17, Church leaders said that having a political mind is an undeniable responsibility—a stand that directly contradicts Vatican guidelines.
A political mind “is not only a strict requirement for (Communist) party members, but also a strong requirement for every ethnic group and every sector in the country, including the faithful of the Catholic Church,” the vice chairperson of the Patriotic Association, Liu Yuanlong, commented.
His remarks were made during a study session on the thrust of a speech delivered during the sixth plenary meeting of the 18th Communist Party central committee in October 2016 by the president, Xi Jinping.
“Having a political mind is our undeniable responsibility,” Bishop Joseph Shen Bin, from Haimen, a Vatican and government approved bishop who is now the vice chairperson of both the bishops’ conference and the Patriotic Association, added.
Catholic bloggers and commentators in China are interpreting the goings on at the gathering as being a subtle response to the overture of Cardinal Tong.
In his February 12 article, the bishop of Hong Kong said that Chinese Catholics are not willing to engage in political activity and that the Chinese Church is not political and has no political aspirations.
“It has no intention of taking part in any political institutions to participate in or advance the political progress of Chinese society,” he said.
The cardinal also said that a China-Vatican agreement would relegate China’s electing and ordaining of its own bishops to the archives of history.
Joseph Zhang, an active blogger in Beijing, called the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference puppets of Beijing. “Bishop Shen’s speech was likely prepared by Beijing. Having a political mind means obeying the rule, direction and path of the party,” he blogged.
Father Paul, a priest commentator in northern China, agrees. “I think those reports were intentional. I did not expect to see that. They were challenging the Holy See’s olive branch,” he commented.
“Vested interest groups use politics to control the Church. There is collusion in and outside the Church. Those responses were made not just towards Cardinal Tong, but also the Vatican,” he continued.
Liu Bainian, the former honorary chairperson of the two organisations, who is dubbed the black pope of China due to his immense influence in the Church, dismissed Cardinal Tong’s article as just being his own opinion in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
Liu also countered the cardinal’s suggestion that bishops of the unofficial Church communities should be recognised, noting that their political stance makes them unfit for the party to work with.