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Complications in the Rome-Beijing Accord

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
What has the reaction to date been of the Vatican and the Chinese Underground Church to the "imminent" Beijing-Rome agreement? As we have seen, a compromise has reportedly been reached and is only waiting for a final sign-off.

A strong resistance in the Underground Church has – until very recently – been publicly fed by retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen. His Urgent Appeal, discussed in the last article, affirmed that Catholics in the Underground Church, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept the authority of the communist-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) nor the eight illegal bishops ordained by the Chinese government without the Vatican's permission. Complicating matters, three of the eight bishops have children and openly live with women and have offered no sign of reforming to achieve "communion" with Rome.

cross removal china

No guarantee in the accord that the cross removal progam will end

Notwithstanding, according to credible reports, in the Rome-Beijing agreement Francis recognizes all eight bishops as a grand gesture in his Year of Mercy. Another touchy topic in this agreement is the Vatican ceding the papal privilege of appointing bishops to the so-called Conference of Chinese Catholic Bishops, whose members act as puppets of the communist authorities.

The accord establishes that the Pope reviews the candidates and can pose objections, but ultimately the choice of bishops belongs to the Chinese bishops and government. Finally, the Holy See hopes – but this is still only a hope – that Beijing will accept 30 underground Bishops into its bishops' conference, although they will not have posts of command or a voice in choosing other bishops.

“The Chinese government still retains effective control over who becomes a bishop,” said Ren Yanli, a specialist in Catholicism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “The final word remains with the Chinese government.”

The agreeement does not address many other issues: how the new religious controls will be put into practice, the government campaign to remove the cross from public buildings; the increasing violations of religious freedom and basic human rights; the Underground Church bishops and priests who are still imprisoned or under house arrest; the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican.

Thus, in the view of many in the Underground Church and the outside world, the results of the China-Vatican agreement are disastrous. It is a victory for the Communist Party that effectively gains control over the Catholic Church, forcing the Underground Church to come above-ground and officially enter the CPA ranks. Those who refuse will be in disobedience to the communist government and, also, to the Vatican. A situation the Catholics of the Underground Church could never even have imagined.

cardinal tong open letter

Card. Tong - a Vatican player in the Beijing-Rome dialogue

So, a strong propaganda campaign to "explain" the agreement to the Chinese government has been ongoing these last few months. In late July, the Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, wrote an open letter aimed at assuaging concerns among Catholics, stating that nothing in the Sino-Vatican accord "violates the principles of faith and communion according to specific circumstance," and that the "adjustments feasible to the local situation" can be accepted in good faith.

In short, Card. Tong along with CPA and Underground Church clergy favorable to the government express hope that the Church in China will just wait until the China-Vatican agreement is announced. Then, they will cry "Long live the Pope!" and go along with the decision. "Trust in Pope Francis, defender of the communion and unity of the Church," as one anonymous priest advises.

However, if the Vatican side is perceived to have made too many concessions and compromises, a large proportion of underground Catholics may refuse to accept or comply with the deal. Perceiving the Vatican as abandoning them, they can see the Pope's signature to any such agreement as a betrayal of their decades-long fight against Communism.

The question the Vatican must ask in face of this resistance is this: What position is the Underground Church prepared to take? The answer to this question may cause serious problems to the enforcement of the Vatican-China agreement

A new Bishop who will not comply

During a May 22 Sunday Mass, underground priest Fr. Paul Dong Guanhua from Zhengding in northern Hebei Province made a public statement announcing that he had been secretly ordained as a Bishop 11 years ago, according to special faculties the Holy See had granted the Chinese Church to ordain successors in times of persecution.

father dong guanhua

Bishop Dong wears the mitre at a May 22 Mass for the underground community

Later, in opposition to the ongoing China-Vatican negotiations, he announced his intent to ordain more Bishops to strengthen the Underground. He also stated that he had already ordained a 51-year-old Bishop on September 7, 2016, but would not reveal his name because of government surveillance and reprisals.

The area of Zhengding and Baoding in the Hebei Province is one the oldest Catholic settlements of the country and a stronghold of underground Catholics. I hope that this Vendée of China will resist any compromise with Communism and earn a noble place in History.

It is reported that Bishop Dong has criticized both the Rome-Beijing accord and Benedict's Letter to Chinese Catholics as betrayals of the Chinese Catholics. The Pope would cede control of the Catholic Church to the Communist State, an unthinkable and unviable act for faithful Catholics. The Letter promoted the one-sided dialogue and unjustly removed the privilege to make priests and bishops, a privilege that allowed the Underground Church to survive and grow.

Bishop Dong and his followers have vowed to walk the path of the late Bishop Fan Xueyan of Baoding (1907-1992), also in the Hebei Province, who was imprisoned, tortured and finally killed by the CPA because of his strong opposition to Communism. This wave of active resistance is a serious embarrassment for Francis, as we see from the response of the parties promoting the accord:

First, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, an Underground Bishop of Zengding who has cordial relations with the Chinese government and approves the ongoing "dialogue," after learning that Fr. Dong is actually a Bishop, hastily issued a press statement on September 13. In it he stated that Fr. Dong had incurred automatic excommunication for accepting episcopal consecration without papal approval.

Bishop Jia, however, has long been condemned by the underground community as too accommodating with the communist government. Bishop Dong was quick to point out that his consecration was legitimate, made under provisions that permitted it before Benedict's Letter (2007).

Second, Fr. Dong's blog was shut down by the government, and it is impossible to find news of his critiques of the CPA, his rationale for his actions or his reportedly strong and growing support in the Underground Church.

faithful

Many of the underground faithful are willing to suffer persecution rather than compromise with Communism

To hasten the China-Vatican accord – it was supposed to be finalized by late October, but has now been delayed until late November – a concerted attempt is being made by the media to pretend the position of Bishop Dong is an "isolated case," just one rebellious priest and a few disgruntled followers.

A popular blogger priest with the pseudonym Peter gives the assurance that "most of the bishops of underground community are willing to achieve full communion with the Catholic Church in China and the Universal Church as soon as possible. They are willing to reconcile with the open Church, even to join it and are making already efforts at reconciliation."

But this assurance falls flat in face of the obviously increasing concern that the resistance movement led by Bishop Dong can further delay the China-Vatican accord. In face of the uncompromising stance of many of the Chinese faithful, the situation seems destined to get much more complicated.

If the accord becomes official, what guarantee does the Vatican have that the Communist government, having gained effective control over the whole Chinese Catholic Church, will not hunt out any recalcitrant remnant and subject them to imprisonment, torture and even death? Should that happen, what will the Vatican do? Be silent and allow the persecution of a remnant Underground Church that maintains its undying fidelity to the Magisterium of our Holy Church?

This growing movement of resistance in China is a ray of hope that shines in these dark and threatening days. The faithful people of the Chinese Underground Church, who have suffered so much and now face betrayal by the very Pope they had defended – deserve our prayers so that they maintain the Faith in its integrity and continue the fight against Communism.

I don't see the need to spell out in detail to my readers the obvious parallel with the growing resistance in the Chinese Underground Church and the similar path that was taken by traditionalists, who were also forced – by fidelity to the Church Magisterium – to resist the errors of the Conciliar Popes and Vatican II.

Posted October 31, 2016

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