New illicit ordinations
(AsiaNews) – China’s Religious Affairs Bureau decision to continue to appoint and ordain “independent” bishops, in short without papal mandate “is like a dirty word addressed to its mother, the Church.” This “will certainly arouse a reaction, a clenched fist from Catholics in China and around the world.” This is the reaction of a personality close to the Vatican, an expert on relations with China, to the recently published SARA plan (State Administration for Religious Affairs).
Using an image of Pope Francis – that of “punching” those who offend his mother – the personality – who wants to remain anonymous – says the decision goes against the very values and unity of the Catholic Church, and will foster “resentment” and “disharmony” in Chinese society, which is already beleaguered by tensions across the board.
On January 15, the official SARA website published the “working plan for 2015”, drawn up at the meeting national held in Beijing last December 26 to 27. Citing the SARA director, Wang Zuoan, it is stated that “2015 will be a very important year for religious work.” The statement goes on to read that the administration’s work ”must be done according to religious regulations, promote the rule of law and take the opinion of the faithful into consideration when implementing religious policies and directions of the central government” because of outstanding issues. These include support the Patriotic Association and the “independent” appointments and ordinations of the bishops.
Beyond all rhetoric, the directive effectively blocks any hope of dialogue between China and the Vatican. Ordinations without papal mandate (“independent” according to China; “illegal” according to the Holy See), are one of the few points that the Church continues to ask of China, in compliance with international treaties of the UN (which Beijing signed) and the structure of Catholic dogma, that a bishop receives his pastoral mandate from the Pope. Both Benedict XVI in his Letter to Chinese Catholics (2007) and Pope Francis in his various interventions (after returning from his trip to Korea and the Philippines) have opened up to the possibility of a dialogue with the authorities on the candidate bishops, but insist on leaving the last word to the Pope.
The responses of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and experts to telegrams sent by Pope Francis as the plane that flew over China, gave hope for a softening of the positions of Beijing.
SARA’s working plan for 2015 risk creating a new set of illicit bishops, who will be automatically excommunicated (not in communion with the Pope). Between 2006 to 2012 China ordained at least five illicit bishops (Kunming, Mindong, Shantou, Leshan, Harbin), often forcing the pastors loyal to the Holy See to participate in it by force. In some cases, the Vatican has reacted with statements clearly criticizing the lack of religious freedom in the country.
he SARA working plan for 2015 also provides for the convening of the National Congress of Catholic Representatives from the Patriotic Association and the Council of Bishops (official), a sort of episcopal conference, not recognized by the Holy See because the underground bishops are excluded. The Patriotic Association and the Congress of Catholic Representatives have been defined incompatible “with Catholic doctrine” because the ministry of bishops must submit to a false “democracy”, led by the Patriotic Association (cf. Benedict XVI’s Letter to Chinese Catholics, no. 7). Also for 2015, the convening of Congress will – according to SARA- to “strengthen the leadership and promote democracy in the management of the Church.”
In fact, this “democratic” management is creating more and more difficulties and resistance among the faithful who reject illicit bishops, deserting their liturgies. They also seek to protect the bishops in communion with the Pope from police violence and spread statements critical of the government’s religious policy.
For many experts, SARA’s working plan with reference to “religious regulations” and the “rule of law”, is reminiscent of the directives of the so-called ”Document 19” published in 1982, in which affirming the policy of asserting control over religions and on the Catholic Church, it was emphasized that the ultimate ideal of the Chinese Communist Party was the elimination of all religion.
From this point of view it may at first seem as if China has not changed at all, preferring to remain entrenched in its’ Maoist ideological claims. In fact, something has changed: under the 2015 working controls will be stepped up on the “bank accounts” of “religious places and seminaries.”
As already shown many times, the Patriotic Association and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have seized goods and money from the Church to the tune of at least 13 billion euro, which under Chinese law should be returned. The anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping in recent months has focused its attention on the management of SARA (and the United Front). The control over the bank accounts of the religious places and seminaries is a diversion in an attempt to put inspectors off the track. It is also an important signal: persecution in China is no longer based on ideological reasons, but in the name of greed and the idol of unjust wealth.