Underground Bishops to be recognised by government

The most difficult problem in the dialogue is, perhaps, how to deal with the more than 30 underground Bishops.

Feb 17, 2017

The most difficult problem in the dialogue is, perhaps, how to deal with the more than 30 underground Bishops.

The legitimacy of the government-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China depends on the inclusion of all legitimately ordained bishops, not just some of them.

Undoubtedly, the Holy See will make the request that all the bishops from the unofficial communities be recruited into it as well.

The underground church is the result of a special political and historical period. The underground bishops only choose to act differently from their counterparts in the open church according to their understanding of Catholic doctrine. As a matter of fact, the government attitude towards the unofficial communities has changed a lot in recent years.

For most, only their identity and administrative rights are unrecognized.

The key to solving this problem is trust between these bishops themselves and the government. Beijing will perhaps ask them to declare explicitly their positions on the Constitution of China, its laws, and policies. As long as the government does not require an “independent, autonomous, and self-run church” anymore, and the “self-nomination and self-ordination” of bishops, all these are not problems for them.

Waiting for entire freedom or holding firmly to the essential freedom, China and the Vatican have already reached a consensus on bishops’ appointments. Based on this agreement, the problems of the future of the CCPA, the legitimacy of the illicit bishops in the official Church community, the recognition of the underground bishops by Beijing and the establishment of the bishops’ conference are going to be resolved.

Then, there will be no more the crisis of division between the open and underground communities. They will gradually move towards reconciliation and work together to preach the Gospel in China.

However, there is an unoptimistic aspect to the agreement. Such a viewpoint states that the issue of the China Church is not an individual issue; it is closely related to the problems of other ethnic groups and religions; for instance, the problems of Tibet, Xinjiang and the autonomy of nationalities.

It would be inappropriate to mix the problems of Catholics with the problems involving Tibet and Xinjiang, as they are not simply problems of religious freedom but more about problems of territory and sovereignty.

As a religious institution, the China Church seeks to live out and witness her belief in China. The concern of the Holy See and the China Church is whether there is room for freedom of religion to practice her belief.

The Catholic Church has her own particular administrative system, the hierarchy. Compared with other religions in China, it has a distinguishing feature, which is the bishops’ appointment. When Beijing handles this unique problem of the Catholic Church, she will not implicate other religions in it.

“The freedom for the Pope to appoint bishops” is part of the religious freedom of the Catholic Church, which has originated from her fundamental doctrines. The lack of the ways to spread the faith, to establish educational institutions and to own Church property will not threaten or harm the nature of the China Church.

If Beijing is now ready to reach an agreement with the Holy See, the China Church will enjoy an essential freedom, albeit not complete freedom.

The choices in front of us are either to embrace the essential freedom now and become an imperfect, but true Church, then struggle for complete freedom in the hope of moving towards a perfect church, or we give up essential freedom and have nothing at all, and then wait for complete freedom — but no one knows when this will ever happen.

In fact, the moral principle of the Church teaches us to choose the lesser of two evils. Under the principle of healthy realism that Pope Francis teaches us, it is clear which path the China Church ought to take. --La Croix

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