China-Vatican: The Strange Desire of the Holy See to be Fooled (3)

Source: FSSPX News

The first two articles presented two Chinese delegates to the conference on the 100th anniversary of the First Chinese Council, held in Rome on May 21: Joseph Shin Ben, Bishop of Shanghai, vice-president of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics (APCC) and Professor Zheng Xiaojun.

They showed the alignment of the two interventions with the doctrine of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in matters of religion, and with the organizations responsible for applying this religious policy, in particular the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics – dependent on the CCP – and the United Front, which spreads the thought of Chinese leaders, and therefore the “sinicization” of matters of religion.

But to “want to be fooled,” there must be two: the one who deceives, and the one who is deceived. We must therefore now examine the position of the Holy See, as it is already known and was expressed in the interventions which were presented to the speakers.

The Wrong Objective

What is striking in the searchable interventions – that of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, and Gianni Valente, director of Agence Fides – is the sense of witnessing a tragic error: focusing on the past along with a rather profound forgetting of the present.

Certainly, the conference concerns a century-old council; certainly, it has a history, an orientation, a development, and decisions. They were determined by the problems of the time and by the state of the missions in the Church, a state which could surely be improved, but which represented an unusual missionary impulse accomplished in the 19th century.

Some interventions make unfair, even reckless, judgments due to their generality. Thus Francis says, regarding the bishops present at this council: “They almost all came from distant countries and, before the council, many of them were not yet ready to consider entrusting the leadership of their dioceses to priests and to bishops born in China.” 

Cardinal Tagle also made this error of perspective, when he said for example: “Today we learned that many decrees of the Shanghai Council were aimed at preventing Christianity from being further presented and perceived as a religious ideology imposed by other civilizations, or as a form of religious imperialism.”

Inculturation is also strongly emphasized in the intervention of the pro-prefect. And he affirms that “this is how a Chinese Church was born … which lives its physiognomy and its indigenous identity not as a withdrawal into itself or a closure, but always in openness to the universal Church and to other local Churches.” This is exactly what must be proven!

Cardinal Tagle even allows himself to affirm that then apostolic delegate, Archbishop “Constantini and so many Fathers of the Council of Shanghai would be happy to recognize that today the community of Catholics baptized in China is fully Catholic and fully Chinese.” This is another assertion that is more than a little hazardous, because the APCC is not Catholic, but schismatic.

Cardinal Parolin focused his speech on two pillars: alongside the need for the indigenization of the Chinese clergy and inculturation, which occupied a good part of the work of the first Chinese council, he underlined the fundamental requirement of the link with the successor of Peter. And moreover, “the need for the Holy See and the Chinese authorities to establish a direct dialogue between them.”

It is difficult not to understand the allusion to the current situation: it is well known that the Secretary of State is at the origin of the Sino-Vatican agreement; and he ardently desires to open a permanent diplomatic channel, whatever it may be, with the People's Republic of China. But, in all this, there is one big thing missing: the reality of Catholicism in China.

The Reflections of Asianews

Fr. Gianni Criveller, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), currently editorial director of the Asianews agency, whose editorial work is entrusted to this Institute, knows the situation in China well, and represents a voice to be listened to. He regularly takes up the pen to present the situation of Chinese Catholics, unvarnished and with conviction.

The report he gave of the conference is instructive. While recognizing errors in the approach of the mission, he asserts “it is unfair to reduce the history of the missions from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century to colonialism and imperialism. Constantini could not have accepted the denigration of the missionary movement, as if it were hostile to the Chinese people.”

And he points out: “Unfortunately, such negative attitudes are used as justification for China’s current religious policy; and have occasionally been heard, albeit in a nuanced way, in some of the speeches given at the hitherto mentioned conferences.” He continues: “I have read thousands of letters by PIME missionaries in China. They were not undertaking the mission – a choice that had no return ticket – to support their own country’s colonialism, but rather to evangelize and ‘save souls’. The missionaries not only did not support the policy of their governments, but actually detested it.” 

Further on, Fr. Criveller vigorously concludes with this point: “Reducing a century of missionary activity to an episode of colonialism is but a convenient ideological reinterpretation to justify illiberal political positions, not the mention the campaigns of religious persecution, which did occur, causing so much suffering to Chinese Catholic communities, whose only fault was to be part of a universal faith.”

The PIME missionary continues with great accuracy: “The missionaries were children of their age. Are we not as well? What will be said about us a hundred years from now? Will they say that we have been far too accommodating to serious violations of the freedom of the Chinese people and of the human and religious rights of so many believers of various religions?” 

And then comes the final nail in the coffin of this conference: “But we commentators, who do not have any diplomatic role but will not fail in our ecclesial responsibility, cannot but see this simple fact: the fundamental problem of the Church in China today is her freedom -- freedom, or emancipation, not from past nationalisms but from the present.”

In fact, that is the whole problem: the Church is not faced with the nationalism of the Republic of China and the Kouo-Min-Tang, but by the People's Republic of China and the CCP, which is frankly not the same thing. And both communism in general and the CCP in particular are irreconcilable enemies of religion and of Catholicism, and will use any weapon – including lies and deception – to destroy religion.

This is what Vatican diplomacy no longer understands and what is causing so much suffering to faithful Chinese Catholics and their best spokesperson, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. And to those analyzing the situation from the outside, the impression is indeed the sense that the Holy See wants to let itself be deceived.