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 Movement of the three autonomies
On December 13, 1950, a dispatch from the New China agency launched the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA) in the Catholic Church via the “Guangyuan Manifesto.” The reform program at that time provided for the formation of parish soviets and reform committees at the local level, composed mainly of lay people.
By acting from below, the government hoped to gather some support to found, at the national level, a Catholic organism disposed to collaborate while being subordinate to power. This project failed because Catholics suspected doctrinal and disciplinary implications. While the project had already been set aside, Pius XII condemned the MTA in the encyclical Ad Sinarum Gentem.
The China Missionary Bulletin, in its Mission Chronicle column, in 1951, frequently spoke of attempts to destabilize local centers through reform movements. Unfortunately, it never mentions the names of the localities where these meetings were held and rarely mentions the names of the people concerned. The facts are recorded under the names of the respective provinces.
During the second half of the year, news of these attempts to reform the Church from within dwindled. Information on the arrest of priests, nuns and lay people, the disappearance of some and the murder of others, was substantially increasing. There was also much news about the closing of Catholic institutions.
Two headings appeared regularly: “In manus tuas Domine,” which updated the list of Catholics killed or dying in prison, and “Expelled from China.” This, in its last edition in 1955, recorded 3,142 expelled priests, bishops, and religious. At that time, just over a dozen foreign missionaries remained in Chinese prisons.
The campaign against imperialism and for love of country and religion
In 1953, the government launched the “Movement of Opposition to Imperialism, Love of Fatherland and Religion.” For the occasion, small nuclei of patriotic associations were again created at the local level, in the hope that from these groups a movement of ideas could be born leading to the constitution of a national Catholic body.
With this objective in mind, in 1953, the Religious Affairs Office convened the Synod of Nanjing, composed of clergymen and presided over by the vicar general of the diocese, Li Weiguang. This synod would be the voice of the new government initiative through a ten-article declaration. But, despite strong pressure from the government, this synod had no response or follow-up.
Li Weiguang was excommunicated by the Holy See. He was then illegitimately ordained bishop on November 15, 1959. It is significant that Louis Wei, in his book entitled The Holy See and China, does not even mention this event.
Things would continue to drag on for some time, putting Catholics, especially bishops and priests, under pressure to give their assent to the Party plan. There were a few adhesions but mostly a lot of opposition in 1955, a decisive year when “the Catholic reactionary front,” to use the expression of the press at the time, was broken by force.
At the beginning of autumn, the authorities arrested almost all the people who, in previous years, had displayed a firm and inflexible attitude. Already many had been arrested and harassed and the number of people killed had increased, contributing to the creation of a climate of terror and suspicion.
The case of Shanghai is emblematic: on the night of September 8, Msgr. Ignace Gong Pinmei (now a cardinal) was arrested with 600 people: priests (about 70), religious, and lay people. The case is typical because it was repeated throughout the country. The regime abolished all the ecclesiastical authorities deemed inflexible – “reactionary,” leaving the dioceses without recognized authority.