China priests’ fears over Vat­i­can’s Bei­jing olive branch

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Se­cret talks be­tween the Vat­i­can and Bei­jing are rais­ing hopes of a “his­toric” rap­proche­ment af­ter six decades of es­trange­ment, but some Chi­nese clergy fear that Rome will ac­cept a Com­mu­nist stran­gle­hold over the coun­try’s Catholics. Since be­com­ing head of the Holy See in 2013 Pope Fran­cis has tried to im­prove re­la­tions with the Chi­nese govern­ment in the hope of re­con­nect­ing with Catholics in China who are di­vided be­tween two de­nom­i­na­tions, loyal to either Rome or Bei­jing.

But op­po­nents-among them the re­spected Hong Kong Car­di­nal Joseph Zen­say the agree­ment risks aban­don­ing loyal be­liev­ers and amounts to a deal with the devil. Since Jan­uary, Chi­nese and Vat­i­can of­fi­cials have met at least four times, in­clud­ing in Rome, to try and re­solve the del­i­cate is­sue of the ap­point­ment of bish­ops-the heart of the dis­pute. Each side has long in­sisted that it should have the fi­nal say on the is­sue the Vat­i­can as God’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on Earth, and the Com­mu­nist party as the fi­nal ar­biter on all is­sues in China.

“We’re hop­ing for a very im­por­tant, his­toric agree­ment that we’ve been wait­ing for nearly 70 years,” said Je­room Heyn­drickx, a Bel­gian priest who has been in­volved with Chi­nese Catholics since the 1950s and is closely fol­low­ing the dis­cus­sions. “A Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion will head to Rome at the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber for a last round of ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said Heyn­drickx, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Fer­di­nand Ver­biest In­sti­tute in Leu­ven, which stud­ies Catholi­cism in China.

China and the Vat­i­can have not had diplo­matic re­la­tions since 1951. The coun­try’s roughly 12 mil­lion Catholics are di­vided be­tween the govern­ment-run Chi­nese Pa­tri­otic Catholic As­so­ci­a­tion (CPCA), whose clergy are cho­sen by the Com­mu­nist Par­ty­but some­times ac­cepted by Rome-and an un­of­fi­cial church where bish­ops named by the Vat­i­can are not rec­og­nized by Bei­jing, but some­times tol­er­ated.

But ear­lier this year the pope sent greet­ings to Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and said he was an ad­mirer of Chi­nese civ­i­liza­tion. Xi re­sponded in Septem­ber with a gift of a silk print of an 8th-cen­tury stele-a nearly three-me­ter tall carved stone tablet-from Xian, the ear­li­est known trace of Chris­tian­ity in China. The agree­ment is cur­rently ex­pected to see the Vat­i­can rec­og­nize four out of the eight CPCA bish­ops it does not cur­rently ac­knowl­edge, ac­cord­ing to Fa­ther Heyn­drickx. Bei­jing could also name two new bish­ops in Shanxi and Sichuan prov­inces with Rome’s bless­ing.

The two would also agree on how to select fu­ture bish­ops. “Rome could ac­cept a sit­u­a­tion in which the fi­nal nom­i­na­tion is made by the pope,” Heyn­drickx adds. But it was not clear whether the Vat­i­can would have a choice of can­di­dates. Cru­cially, the agree­ment will not ad­dress the 30 bish­ops con­se­crated by Rome but re­jected by Bei­jing. “Their fate will cer­tain- ly not be re­solved in the near fu­ture,” said Fa­ther Heyn­drickx. Even if Bei­jing agreed to rec­og­nize them, he pre­dicted, “I am con­vinced that they would refuse to join the Pa­tri­otic As­so­ci­a­tion.”

‘Re­al­ity is cruel’

Chi­nese Catholics are di­vided over the prospect of an agree­ment, with Car­di­nal Zen-who spent seven years teach­ing in the of­fi­cial church in the 1990s-the most high-pro­file op­po­nent. The Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party is of­fi­cially athe­ist and Zen said of the CPCA: “They don’t be­lieve in God, they don’t un­der­stand what is the church. They only have po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.” He con­trasted the Pope’s ap­proach with that of his pre­de­ces­sor John Paul II, who lived un­der both Nazi and Com­mu­nist rule in Poland and played a key role in the ad­vent of democ­racy in eastern Europe. “Com­mu­nism is a ter­ri­ble to­tal­i­tar­ian regime and peo­ple who haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced that find diffi- culty to un­der­stand that,” Zen said from Hong Kong. Pope Fran­cis, he said, “wants to make peace with every­body, that’s very good, but some­times I think the re­al­ity is cruel”.

For Francesco Sisci, a re­searcher at Ren­min Univer­sity who has been fol­low­ing Vat­i­can is­sues for decades, the split in the Catholic church in China is more than po­lit­i­cal. “The Catholic church is split be­tween fac­tions that hate each other,” he ex­plained. “In the same area, you have two bish­ops ri­val­ing for power, for money.” Zen de­scribed the CPCA’s mem­bers as “pup­pets of the govern­ment” who have prof­ited from their po­si­tions. If Rome rec­og­nized it, he added, Bei­jing could feel em­bold­ened to “elim­i­nate” the un­der­ground church, whose mem­bers would be left “des­per­ate”. Vat­i­can au­thor­i­ties “say they hope that by this agree­ment, the peo­ple may live their faith peace­fully,” Zen said. “But if there is no free­dom there is no peace.” —AFP

JAMMU: In­dian vol­un­teers and of­fi­cials carry an in­jured vil­lager into The Govern­ment Med­i­cal Col­lege Hos­pi­tal in Jammu yes­ter­day, af­ter she was in­jured in cross-bor­der shelling in the dis­puted Hi­malayan re­gion of Kash­mir. —AFP

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