VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - As the Vatican considers approving illicit bishops in Communist China, a group of Chinese faithful are begging the pope to reconsider.
In China, much of the Catholic Church is "underground," operating without government oversight and even contrary to the Communist country's laws. But other Chinese Catholics are, instead, members of government-approved dioceses and parishes.
Government-backed Chinese bishops have been excommunicated for being appointed without Vatican approval. Bishop Joseph Ma Ying of Kunming, for instance, was consecrated as a bishop in 2006 by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Since he was ordained a bishop without the knowledge and consent of the Holy See, he soon received an official excommunication.
Reports say China and the Vatican are currently in "dialogue" about the appointment of bishops over the underground portions of the Church. It has even been said that the Vatican could potentially order legitimate underground bishops to step down early and let the excommunicates take their seats.
A coalition of 15 lay leaders in China put together an appeal to the Vatican, asking Pope Francis to backtrack on the rumored plans.
Signed by human rights activists, lawyers and others, the document argues that "the seven illicitly ordained 'bishops' were not appointed by the pope, and their moral integrity is questionable. They do not have the trust of the faithful and have never repented publicly."
It also states, "If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China."
Elsewhere, the text cites the Holy Father's expressions of compassion for persecuted Christians. "We believe that persecution of Christians in China also pains His Holiness," it states. "Therefore, we urge that any agreement must be grounded in the protection of religious freedom and an end to religious persecution."
The appeal concludes:
Your Eminence and Most Reverend, we earnestly hope that you, your brothers and your flock continue to pray for the communion of the Church in China, as well as her pastoral ministry. We earnestly ask you, with the love of the people of God, to appeal to the Holy See: Please rethink the current agreement and stop making an irreversible and regrettable mistake.
Vatican Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin has defended the Vatican's talks with the Chinese government. In an interview published January 31, Cdl. Parolin asked the faithful to trust that the Church's leadership has good intentions for pondering the appointment of illicit, government-approved bishops over the underground church.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, criticized the Vatican's approach — and especially Cdl. Parolin's defense of it — in a response article on February 13. Cardinal Zen also shared his thoughts on his blog.
Cardinal Zen mocked Parolin's show of compassion for the faithful in China and said underground Catholics were willing to be martyrs for the Faith. He wrote, "Crocodile tears! What suffering is he talking about? He knows very well that they are not afraid of poverty, nor the limitation or deprivation of liberty, nor even the loss of life."
In the interview, Cdl. Parolin accused China's underground Catholics of holding a grudge against the government-approved Catholics, claiming "no one should cling to the spirit of opposition to condemn his brother or use the past as an excuse to stir up new resentments and closures."
Cardinal Zen fought back against this accusation: "These are really cruel reproaches to address to faithful members of the Church, who for many years have suffered every kind of deprivation and oppression for their fidelity to the true Church!"
The cardinal went on to say that institutionalizing the underground church to accommodate an anti-Catholic government was like putting two birds in one cage, instead of letting at least one of them fly free. He wrote, "When the other party has no intention of respecting the essential nature of the Catholic Church and on our part one wants unity at all costs, there is only one possible choice — that of forcing everyone to enter the 'bird's cage.'"
This was not Cdl. Zen's first time criticizing the possible agreement between the Vatican and the People's Republic of China. He spoke out against it previously in a piece published January 30.
Worsening the scandal, Bp. Marcel Sanchez Sorondo heaped praise on the Communist regime. Serving as prefect for two pontifical academies, Bp. Sorondo claimed during an interview that "those who best realize the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese."