In response to the requirement for all the members of the Chinese Catholic clergy of the underground Church to report to the public authorities as soon as possible, the Holy See has just published several pastoral directives meant to guarantee as much respect for Catholic doctrine as that of the laws of the communist state.
The Roman document published on June 28, 2019 is the response of the Holy See to Chinese bishops who have been asking for several months for “a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration.”
The principle underlying the Vatican’s response is that of the contribution to the unity of Chinese Catholics and the public exercise of ecclesiastical ministry, for the good of the faithful, in line with what Pope Benedict XVI wrote on 27 May 2007: “being clandestine is not a normal feature of the Church’s life.” Which is true in normal times. But did not the early Christians often live in in hiding?
If Rome, however, does not intend to force the priests of the underground Church into an approach that they consider contrary to their moral conscience, the letter made public on the feast of the Sacred Heart suggests a path to allow those who have doubts about civil registration, to free themselves from their reservations.
Thus, the Holy See proposes that they ask, at the time of registration, to add a written sentence by which they affirm that the independence, autonomy, and self-management of the Church—absolutely required by the Communist Party—unfailingly goes along with Catholic doctrine. That is to say, according to an autonomy similar to that experienced by all the particular Churches in the world, who profess their submission to the successor of Peter.
If this written clarification is not permitted, the clergy member who wishes to register will have to express it verbally, in the presence of a witness.
In all cases, the signer must immediately inform his ordinary of the precise circumstances in which the procedure was completed.
This approach is meant to be “realistic,” without yielding to some “naiveté” as explained in Vatican News on June 28, 2019 by Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the dicastery for the communication of the Holy See.
This amounts to forgetting a little too quickly the famous Chinese proverb which claims that one must “fear the tiger in front of you just as much as the wolf that follows behind you.”