Vatican advice leaves China bishops in a bind
HONG KONG (UCAN) — Several mainland bishops, approved by the Vatican and recognized by the government, say following some of the advice from the Vatican’s China Commission will put them in a difficult position.
The communiqué for the third plenary meeting released on March 25 said the commission unanimously hoped that all mainland bishops could avoid gestures that run counter to communion with the Pope.
It specifies such gestures like: sacramental celebrations (with illegitimate bishops), episcopal ordinations (without a papal mandate) and participation in meetings (like the planned National Congress of Catholic Representatives of the “open” Church community in China).
UCA News spoke to three open bishops for their response to the communiqué. They spoke on condition of anonymity, and are given the pseudonyms Joseph, Paul and Peter.
Bishop Joseph noted that the communiqué puts “pressure” on bishops but lays out “a clearer and more concrete direction for the China Church toward reconciliation.”
He admitted some bishops may have difficulties following the Vatican’s advice, as local situations differ in each diocese and the “state of conscience of individual bishops is different.”
His conscience does not allow him to participate in an illicit ordination, he stressed. However, he was hesitant regarding the point on attending the national congress, which he described as “inconsistent with the Church spirit.”
Bishops Paul and Peter also stressed they would not attend episcopal ordinations without a papal mandate since Pope Benedict XVI made his position on the issue clear in his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics.
“No matter how much my diocese and I have to sacrifice, I will definitely not go to any illicit ordination,” Bishop Paul said.
However, he said concelebrations with illegitimate bishops may happen particularly when attending meetings organized by Church authorities. “I will not join if the main celebrant is an illegitimate bishop, but if he is only one of the concelebrants I can hardly avoid it,” the prelate said.
He said the China Commission has good intentions and “neither I nor many other bishops wish to join the national congress, but it’s hard to refuse.”
The meeting is arranged by the government. “Officials will accuse you of not loving the country if you do not take part. They will aim their anger at bishops after being blamed by their superiors, and Church work in all aspects will become very difficult in future,” Bishop Paul noted.
Bishop Peter said the communiqué’s advice is difficult to follow practically, since bishops will find it “hard to say no” to government officials who will coerce them to attending the congress or illicit ordinations.
“We bishops feel perplexed about what to do. We no longer have room for maneuver since the papal letter came out. We can only choose between surviving in the cracks and breaking off relations with the government,” he lamented.
“The open community is unwilling to break the good relationship with the government, which it has struggled to build over a long period of time,” he explained.
Bishop Peter believed the national congress, which is supposed to convene later this year, will cause a split in the open community.
“I will passively attend the meeting to gain space for pastoral work and not to embarrass local officials,” he said. He believed the majority of open bishops will also attend, adding that it is unrealistic not to go.
Those who wish to follow the Vatican’s advice should be prepared for poorer relations with the authorities and stronger controls, which is another way of being God’s witness, he said.