SHIJIAZHUANG, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - Underground Catholics are fearing a new thaw in relations between China and the Vatican may lead to their betrayal.
The suspicion is based on an interview Pope Francis gave in February where he described China as "... a reference point for greatness," and its people as possessing "a great culture, with an inexhaustible wisdom." The Holy Father did not, however, say anything about Chinese Catholics since the interviewer specifically stayed away from political or religious themes, stating other popes had already spoken of it.
Underground Chinese Catholics — numbering over eight million — are not recognized by the government because they acknowledge the authority of the Pope. Often, they are forced to gather in "house churches" for the Mass and other sacraments. Sometimes authorities look the other way but frequently priests, seminarians, religious and laymen can be imprisoned, put in labor camps or tortured.
The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) is the only organization of Catholics acknowledged by the Chinese government and isn't acknowledged by Rome. It's had a tumultuous and complicated history with Rome since its inception in 1957. In 2011 authorities appointed Joseph Huang Bingzhang as the bishop of Shantou, who was summarily excommunicated by the Vatican.
The CPCA doesn't recognize the authority of the pope or anything done in the Church since 1957 because "foreign influence" is not allowed in any government-approved organization. But since the 1980's the Novus Ordo Mass has become common as well as the unofficial use of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII declared any bishops ordained as part of the CPCA as valid but excommunicated. Since the 1980's some bishops were able to contact Rome through missionaries and gave their allegiance to the Pope. As a result many of them were imprisoned, put under house arrest or in labor camps, tortured or otherwise silenced by the Chinese government.
Catholics in China's underground Catholic Church are concerned over the possibility of Rome's cooperation with the Chinese government. As relations seem to be thawing between Rome and Beijing, Chinese Catholics are worried both sides may agree on candidates.
Cardinal Joseph Zen commented, "It is unthinkable to leave the initial proposal in the hands of an atheist government who cannot possibly judge the suitability of a candidate to be a bishop."
In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the people of China, insisting among other things, on true religious freedom in China and the Holy See be completely free to appoint bishops.
There doesn't appear to be any evidence confirming Rome will work with the Communist Chinese government in the appointment of bishops.