One of the Chinese bishops at the heart of the dispute between Beijing and the Vatican declared on February 11, 2018, that he would respect an agreement between the two parties but also warned of the intentions of the Communist regime.
Bishop Guo Xijin is a bishop of the “underground” Church that has remained faithful to Rome. The Holy See has asked him to step down if an agreement is reached between the two countries and leave his see to a bishop of the “official” Church which may soon return to Roman unity.
Breaking his silence on February 11, 2018, before the evening Mass, Bishop Guo declared that he would “respect any deal” worked out between the two powers: I will “obey Rome’s decision,” he declared straightforwardly. But the prelate added that in his numerous dealings with the Chinese authorities, he has sensed an unwillingness to let the Vatican have the final say over Catholic spiritual life.
For the time being, Bishop Guo still is not allowed to wear his episcopal insignia; the authorities allow him to wear the simple cassock of an ordinary priest, and he has to report all his movements to the police, which is not enough to spare him regular stays in prison.
The situation has nonetheless evolved: Bishop Guo says that the restrictions on the Church have loosened: “The government is gradually opening it up,” he said, “though in this regard, the government still has a little bit of concern.”
If an agreement is signed between China and the Vatican, it will put an end to a schism that dates back to 1957, the year the “patriotic Church” was created by the Communist powers. But what will be the cost? Last month, Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, met with Pope Francis to warn against an agreement with Beijing that could be to the detriment of the underground Church that has remained faithful to Rome.
Some observers compare what is happening in China with the situation in France at the time of the 1801 Concordat, an agreement signed by Napoleon I and the Holy See. Many bishops faithful to Rome were forced to step down in order to find a solution to the schism caused by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Several bishops, priests, and faithful failed to understand the situation properly and submit to Pius VII’s decision, refused the Concordat, and founded a schismatic “Little Church”. But it is too soon for now to confirm the parallel between the two situations. Napoleon I presented himself as the restorer of the Church and religion, whereas the intentions of the Communist Party remain unclear, although they do not seem to include giving up its control over religion in the country. Cardinal Zen speaks courageously for those who know the regime and the pressure it puts on the freedom of the Church.