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HONG KONG (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic priests in China must either approve of the state-run church or cease operating in China. A priest in China is asking why the Vatican remains silent on this most pressing issue as the deadline for compliance closes in.
A priest in South China is appealing through Catholic media on behalf of his brother priests. Before year's end, the Catholic "underground," or unofficial, priests must register through the state-run church, the Patriotic Catholic Association, to receive a certificate allowing them to exercise their ministry.
The priest notes this registration comes with a stipulation that violates the Catholic faith. "[A]ll the underground priests find themselves in a serious dilemma, since, in order to be able to carry on pastoral ministry, they have to apply for the registration through the Catholic Patriotic Association, accepting its principle of the autonomy, independence and democratic administration of the Church," he explained.
In effect, to function, Catholic priests must accept as valid principles of an organization that Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 declared "incompatible with Catholic doctrine."
[It] is clear that the claim of some entities, desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, to place themselves above the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not correspond to Catholic doctrine ... . [T]o implement "the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church" is incompatible with Catholic doctrine.
The Chinese priest, whose identity is withheld for reasons of security, is asking why this registration must come with the impossible stipulation that clergy must accept the legitimacy of a false church. "Their official registration of the clergy is indeed desirable, but why should they apply for the identity certificate through the Patriotic Catholic Association and not simply through the State Administration for Religious Affairs or through other civil organs, as in other nations?"
As the Vatican discusses with Beijing the possibility of Chinese officials appointing Catholic bishops, this priest is also asking why the Holy See remains silent over the looming crisis.
The CPCA, China's "official" state-run church, was started in 1957 by communists in opposition to the Catholic Church. The CPCA does have valid sacraments but doesn't recognize the supreme administrative, legislative and judicial authority of the Pope. The authentic Catholic Church was then outlawed and driven underground. The true Catholic Church in China is thus called the underground or unofficial Church.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII declared that all bishops who belong to the CPCA are excommunicated. In 1996, Pope John Paul II referred to the CPCA as "a Church which does not respond to either the will of the Lord Jesus, or to the Catholic faith." In the same speech, the Holy Father called the underground Church "a precious jewel of the Catholic Church."
The sentiments of the Catholic members of the underground Church can be summed up in the defiant statement of it greatest prelate who was incarcerated by the government for 30 years as punishment for not joining the CPCA. At his trial in 1960, Cdl. Ignatius Kung proclaimed, "I am a Catholic bishop. If I leave the Holy Father, not only would I not be a bishop, I would not even be a Catholic. You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duty."