Rome’s ‘Chinese Problem’

News: World News
by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  August 5, 2016   

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HONG KONG ( - A prominent Chinese cardinal is trying to comfort persecuted Catholics by explaining what Rome is doing to help them.

In a July 31 letter, Cdl. John Tong of Hong Kong clarifie in detail the issues currently separating the Catholic Church and the government-sanctioned version of the Catholic Church (CPA) in China.

2016 has seen an explosion of Chinese Catholic persecution by the government and a mounting distrust of Rome on the part of faithful Catholics. Cardinal Tong is attempting to address Chinese priests, explaining the issues needing to be surmounted by Rome while pointing out that recent popes have been consistent with their approach to the government.

He asserts that over the last several years Rome has "gained the reconsideration" of the Chinese government, making possible further discussion on the main problem that has the two sides split — the appointment of bishops.

Church teaching dictates the Pope — as head of the Church — alone has the authority to appoint bishops. The Chinese government, however, sees the appointment of bishops as a political issue in which "foreigners" cannot intervene.

Cardinal Tong notes that some Chinese priests have become suspicious of Rome based on an interview Pope Francis gave in February describing 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 directly about Chinese Catholics, since the interviewer specifically stayed away from political or religious themes.

Tong addresses the fear some have that the Vatican or the Pope may go against the principles of the Church in reaching an agreement. To them he answers,

[W]e believe that Pope Francis, as the protector of the unity and communion of the universal Church, would not accept any agreement that would harm the integrity of faith of the universal Church or the communion between the Catholic Church in China and the universal Church. He would only sign an agreement that would promote the unity and communion of the Church in China with the universal Church.

He notes that the Church has worked with relative success with the communist government of Vietnam, adding, "[T]he Apostolic See has the right to set up special provisions to target the specific circumstances faced by the Church in China. This does not violate the principles of faith nor destroy the communion and unity of the Church."

He defends recent Vatican actions reaching back to Pope Benedict XVI legitimizing CPA bishops who had been validly consecrated but appointed without papal approval:

The Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments and the complexity of the situation, and taking into account the opinion of neighbouring Bishops, by virtue of his proper responsibility as universal Pastor of the Church, has granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction. This initiative of the Pope resulted from knowledge of the particular circumstances of their ordination and from his profound pastoral concern to favour the reestablishment of full communion.

The cardinal addresses the fact that some are concerned that discussion between the Vatican and the Chinese government may endanger the cause of underground faithful Catholics. "I believe that this worry could represent a mistrust of the love of the Holy See towards the Church in China," he commented. "This way of thinking may indeed be an offense against the Holy See and its delegated representatives in the negotiations; it should not come from the hearts of us Catholics."

He assures the faithful that underground Catholics are not and have not been forgotten by Rome and that their sacrifices and perseverance in the Catholic faith is "universally acknowledged." He also expresses hopes that discussion with the Chinese government will soon allow them to practice the Faith openly — acknowledging, however, that it will take time.


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