These articles are intended to present a very particular reality, which plays a determining role in the life of the Catholics in China, either by conscripting them under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or by casting them back into the catacombs. The article has been published on the website of the Foreign Missions of Paris. This presentation will allow the uninformed reader to understand what are the stakes of the agreement between China and the Vatican, which should be renewed for the second time in October.
Forty years after the founding of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, it is possible to decipher the purpose and the objectives that the leaders of the CCP had set themselves and that they hoped to achieve through its creation.
The Beginnings of the New Regime (continued)
The “Riberi case”
When the People's Republic was proclaimed, Msgr. Antonio Riberi had represented the Holy See since 1946, residing in Nanjing, the seat of the nationalist government. After the arrival of the Communists, he did not leave China as diplomats accredited to the Chinese government did.
Because of his mission, which had to do only in a very secondary way with politics, Msgr. Riberi was ordered to stay as long as possible on Chinese soil and in no case to abandon his diplomatic seat. This is why he tried to contact the new authorities and to transfer his residence to Beijing, the capital of the new regime.
On a formal level, the attitude of the pontifical representative was undoubtedly erroneous: he had been accredited to a (nationalist) government which had ceased to exist on Chinese territory and had been transferred elsewhere. According to some, Msgr. Riberi should have followed this government. But the Holy See viewed relations with the Church in China rather than political events.
The turbulence of the hour required practical decisions. The bishops were unable to meet and agree on a common position, so it was up to the internuncio to take a position. A difficult task, especially considering the events in countries ruled by communist regimes where bishops had been persecuted, imprisoned, and the life of the Church rendered almost impossible.
Several fully legitimate initiatives by Msgr. Riberi gave the Chinese authorities the opportunity to attack his action. Faced with increasing difficulties for the Church to carry out its normal activities of worship and catechesis, the Internuncio encouraged the formation of the Legion of Mary. The strong attraction it exerted immediately attracted the attention and antipathy of the regime, which designated it as a counter-revolutionary and subversive movement.
A second incident was caused by a declaration by the Nanking clergy proposing to reform the administration of the Church in China, bearing the signature of the vicar general of the diocese, Fr. Li Weiguang. The declaration was published in the People's Daily on May 31, 1951. Msgr. Riberi sent a letter in Latin to the bishops expressing disapproval of its contents.
On several occasions thereafter, Msgr. Riberi did not fail to warn pastors and faithful against the Movement of the Three Autonomies, of Protestant inspiration, and which was constantly proposed as guiding the Catholic Church.
Finally, after an intense press and opinion campaign, on June 26, 1951, Msgr. Riberi was placed under house arrest in Nanking. On September 4, the Chinese press announced his deportation. On the 5th, he arrived in Shanghai under escort. He was then put on a train to take him to Hong Kong.
Msgr. Riberi remained in Hong Kong for a whole year, in the vain hope of obtaining accreditation from the new government in Beijing. After this wait, he finally went to Taiwan. The “Riberi case” still remains a controversial page in the history of the Church in China.
It remains, however, a secondary fact in its substance, only of importance for the use that was to be made of it to justify a “religious policy” which would have been implemented anyway, as the following pages will amply illustrate.