While the rumor mill is churning over an imminent agreement between Beijing and the Holy See, doubts about the effective freedom that the Party could guarantee to Chinese Catholics remain strong. We must pray for them, for the unity of the Church and for the discernment of local pastors. China "continues to consider itself the absolute center of the world". The opinion of a missionary, a great expert in the Middle Empire.
Rome (AsiaNews) - The possible agreement between China and the Vatican "does not change the concrete reality of the facts. The Chinese government wants absolute control over the Catholic Church and the episcopate,” says Fr Sergio Ticozzi, a great China expert and PIME missionary. He is convinced of this and in this interview, underlines the critical issues of a compromise with the Party:" If the Vatican is now ready to recognize bishops with lovers and children, obedient first of all to the Party and its political pawns from their entrance into the seminary, in the future it will pose no resistance to any candidate that the Chinese authorities propose or for the dioceses they set ".
The voices of an agreement reached between China and the Holy See (on the nominations of bishops) have become more insistent in recent times. At the same time we are witnessing a resurgence of violence towards the faithful - above all underground - and other religions in China. How credible are these rumors?
Everyone already knows of the existence of a text that is the subject of discussion in the meetings between the Vatican and Chinese government delegations. Its content is not yet known in detail, but according to what is reported by the official ecclesiastical authorities, it deals with the modalities of appointing bishops. But for this reason the Chinese authorities demand the legitimacy of the seven illegitimate bishops of whom three are excommunicated. The Vatican seems very eager to do this, with the aim of avoiding the continuation of illegitimate episcopal ordinations and therefore the danger of a schism.
The Chinese government is exploiting this and the emotionality of Pope Francis, and knows that, if the Vatican is now ready to recognize bishops with lovers and children, obedient first of all to the Party and its political pawns from their entrance into the seminary, in the future it will pose no resistance to any candidate that the Chinese authorities propose or for the dioceses they set (the division of the dioceses is often a very complex instance and it does not seem that the members of the Vatican delegation know much about Chinese ecclesiastical geography).
The Chinese episcopate and the Catholic Church will therefore continue to be under their absolute control. Besides the appointment of the bishops, there are other problems, such as those of the officialization of clandestine bishops (there are 35 of them 19 active), the registration of clandestine clergy, the role of the Patriotic Association, etc .: I do not know if and how they are dealt with in the agreement or set aside. I am afraid that the Vatican's ambiguity on the principles of autonomy and independence of the Chinese Church is unfortunately maintained.
How can the push towards agreement and the continuation of persecution and control of religions and Catholics be reconciled? And this is for China and for the Vatican ...
The perplexity arises from the fact that, while the Vatican seems very optimistic, the Chinese authorities are strongly restricting the freedom of religious practice, transferring full control from the government to the Communist Party. Everyone is aware of the present restrictions on the religious education of children, of the control of church administration and interference in religious affairs in the name of 'sinicization'.
This reveals that there are two opposing positions in China: the foreign ministry that pushes in one sense while the Party with the Department of the United Front and the State Administration for Religious Affairs who oppose it on a practical level. The implementation of any agreement will therefore be very difficult, if not impossible, unless the Vatican is content with theory.
It is said that thanks to this agreement the Vatican favors a greater unity of the Church in China. Is that so? What is the status of the unity of the Church in China?
The Vatican's concern is undoubtedly to avoid a schism by eliminating illegitimate episcopal ordinations: in this it intends to favor the unity of the Church in China. In fact, however, it does not seem to take into consideration the concrete fact of the division of the Church and the existence of its unofficial section. Many have the impression that the Vatican is playing the Chinese authorities’ game and is cooperating in their intent to eliminate it. Then there is also the issue of the perpetual state of confusion in the faithful: how to treat bishops and clergy who say they are loyal to the Holy Father, but who adhere to the principles of autonomy and independence of the Patriotic Association and obey the Party in everything? Do they belong to the universal Catholic Church or to a national church?
China is seen as the next world superpower that will soon overthrow the United States. Until recently, analysts thought that as China opened up to the world and economic liberalism, there would be more political and religious freedom ... Instead, China seems to offer another model: economic wellbeing, social control, control of the media, of religions ...
It is part of the national subconscious, from the leaders to the ordinary citizen, a subconscious that was created by its imperial history, for Chinese people to see themselves as the "middle Empire", that is the "Center of the world", to which the other states "carry tributes" all the Chinese aspire to this. Numerically they are already and economically they are becoming as much; they also want to become this militarily. It is difficult for China to learn how to behave on an equal footing with equality on the world stage, even if it is repeated in words (unfortunately it does not have good models to learn from). This is why it wants to follow its own 'way'; everything must be 'sinicized'.
This point has never been taken into due consideration, especially by Western countries. Not having the imperial model, the current governing body is convinced that a country as vast as China needs a very strong central power that only the Communist Party can currently provide, with Xi Jinping at its center. His 'way' or current model seems to be "total control first and then economic well-being".
What can we do for China and for the Church in China?
The clergy and Chinese Catholics deserve great respect. Trying to solve their problems without their direct involvement does not seem right. Personally I feel very uncomfortable when I see that foreigners judge the Chinese or foreigners decide in their place. We must also show Catholics support, encouragement and esteem for the difficulties they face in living the faith, as well as facilitating, by every available means, opportunities to strengthen their religious formation and their spirit of evangelization, which they greatly need (priestly and religious vocations are in sharp decline). The union in prayer with them and for them is indispensable since faith and correspondence to it are gifts of the Lord.