Rorate Caeli

A Vatican rebuke to the "Patriotic Church" in China

May this silence those who insist that the Communist-controlled "Patriotic Church" is now fully legitimate and that the heroic "underground" Catholics of China are the ones who are in rebellion against ecclesiastical authority. CAP.


1. With profound sorrow, the Holy See laments the fact that from 7 to 9 December 2010 there was held in Beijing the Eighth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives. This was imposed on numerous Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. The manner in which it was convoked and its unfolding manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China.

The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens’ lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China. On the contrary, it seems to be a sign of fear and weakness rather than of strength; of intransigent intolerance rather than of openness to freedom and to effective respect both of human dignity and of a correct distinction between the civil and religious spheres.

2. On several occasions the Holy See had let it be known, first and foremost to the Bishops, but also to all the faithful, and publicly, that they should not take part in the event. Each one of those who were present knows to what extent he or she is responsible before God and the Church. The Bishops in particular and the priests will also have to face the expectations of their respective communities, who look to their own Pastor and have a right to receive from him sure guidance in the faith and in the moral life.

3. It is known, moreover, that many Bishops and priests were forced to take part in the Assembly. The Holy See condemns this grave violation of their human rights, particularly their freedom of religion and of conscience. Moreover, the Holy See expresses its deepest esteem for those who, in different ways, have borne witness to their faith with courage and it invites the others to pray, to do penance and, through their works, to reaffirm their own will to follow Christ with love, in full communion with the universal Church.

4. Addressing those whose hearts are full of dismay and profound suffering, those who are wondering how it is possible that their own Bishop or their own priests should have taken part in the Assembly, the Holy See asks them to remain steadfast and patient in the faith; it invites them to take account of the pressures experienced by many of their Pastors and to pray for them; it exhorts them to continue courageously supporting them in the face of the unjust impositions that they encounter in the exercise of their ministry.

5. During the Assembly, among other things, the leaders of the so-called Episcopal Conference and of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association were appointed. Concerning these two entities, and concerning the Assembly itself, the words written by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 Letter to the Church in China continue to apply (cf. nos. 7 and 8). In particular, the present College of Catholic Bishops of China cannot be recognized as an Episcopal Conference by the Apostolic See: the "clandestine" Bishops, those not recognized by the Government but in communion with the Pope, are not part of it; it includes Bishops who are still illegitimate, and it is governed by statutes that contain elements incompatible with Catholic doctrine. It is deeply deplorable that an illegitimate Bishop has been appointed as its President.

Furthermore, regarding the declared purpose to implement the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church, it should be remembered that this is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient Creeds professes the Church to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic". It is therefore lamentable also that a legitimate Bishop has been appointed President of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

6. This is not the path that the Church must follow in the context of a great and noble nation, which attracts the attention of world opinion for its significant achievements in so many spheres, but still finds it hard to implement the demands of genuine religious freedom, despite the fact that it professes in its Constitution to respect that freedom. What is more, the Assembly has rendered more difficult the path of reconciliation between Catholics of the “clandestine communities” and those of the “official communities”, thereby inflicting a deep wound not only upon the Church in China but also upon the universal Church.

7. The Holy See profoundly regrets the fact that the celebration of the above-mentioned Assembly, as also the recent episcopal ordination without the indispensable Papal mandate, have unilaterally damaged the dialogue and the climate of trust that had been established in its relations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The Holy See, while reaffirming its own wish to dialogue honestly, feels bound to state that unacceptable and hostile acts such as those just mentioned provoke among the faithful, both in China and elsewhere, a grave loss of the trust that is necessary for overcoming the difficulties and building a correct relationship with the Church, for the sake of the common good.

8. In the light of what has happened, the Holy Father’s invitation – addressed on 1 December 2010 to all the Catholics of the world to pray for the Church in China which is going through a particularly difficult time – remains pressing.

17 December 2010

Comment: this rebuke is praiseworthy and is much clearer than previous Vatican statements on the Church in China. However, speaking as a simple layman, and with all reverence for the authority of the Holy Father, I hope that more concrete and ecclesiologically unambiguous measures will be taken by Rome to clarify the ecclesiastical situation in China.

The situation in China is unprecedented in Roman Catholic history -- a Church (the "Patriotic Church")that officially denies papal authority, openly having two kinds of bishops in the same episcopal college: those who quietly accept the authority of the Pope and have sought his blessing for their assumption of the episcopal office, and who commemorate him without openly denying the legitimacy of the "Patriotic Church"; and those who have taken no steps whatsoever to demonstrate their adherence to Catholic teaching on papal authority. It used to be that either you were in a Church that was openly in communion with Rome, or not, with said communion being defended unto the shedding of blood, with the help of divine grace. I say this without meaning to judge the intentions and the character of the "Patriotic" clergy, many of whom have also suffered much in defense of their flock. CAP.


  1. Anonymous2:37 PM

    It seems like this would have been an opportune time to pull out the Church's condemnations of Communism over the last century and a half. The case in China seems to fit EXACTLY all the warnings about how it oppresses not only materially but also spiritually and how it seeks to replace God with the State. The discontinuity still needs some healing, Holy Father.


  2. The Church in the PRC is a mess. I am just glad that the Holy See has not given in to the ChiComs.

    With Zen of Hong Kong retired and men like the bishop of Beijing gaining prominence (and a profile in The Atlantic a few years ago), things for the mainland Chinese Catholics who wished to remain true to the Church were not looking good.

    But at last the ChiComs have shown their true colors once again with these latest provocations. Let us pray that the lesson has been learned that the ChiComs are not to be trusted to negotiate in good faith.

  3. Anonymous3:23 PM

    "It used to be that either you were in a Church that was openly in communion with Rome, or not..."

    See post from 12/17...

  4. Anonymous6:04 PM

    I grieve for thos Catholics in China who are loyal to Rome and are suffering persecution. I wonder if I was in their shoes would I be as strong as they are? If a policeman came to my home and said spit on the photo of the Holy Father or we will take your wife and child from you, would I be as stong as they are? Its very humbling.

  5. Anonymous7:39 PM

    The Holy See profoundly regrets the fact that the celebration of the above-mentioned Assembly, as also the recent episcopal ordination without the indispensable Papal mandate, have unilaterally damaged the dialogue and the climate of trust that had been established in its relations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

    The implication here seems to be that the Pope acknowledges the episcopal ordination as valid since language such as "attempted ordination" was avoided. One might assert that the validity question is still open as no explicit statement was made, but were the Vatican seriously considering judging invalidity in this case, it would seem as though the language would have been so nuanced.

    This is particularly poignant given Dr. Edward Peters' discussion at:

  6. Anonymous11:16 PM

    I'd rather have this story be "A Vatican harsh rebuke to The LCWR and USA Nuns", rather than to the Patriotic Church of Church of China.

    The Patriotic Church may not go thru proper Vatican channels in selecting bishops, etc., but they are Catholics.

    The same can't be said for the LCWR, or for 90% of American nuns.

  7. "The implication here seems to be that the Pope acknowledges the episcopal ordination as valid"

    The episcopal ordinations of the Patriotic Church have tended to be considered as valid. It traces its episcopal orders to the ten Vatican-appointed Roman Catholic bishops of China who, between 1958 and 1962, willingly collaborated with the Mao Zedong regime to create a large number of bishops for the "Patriotic Church".

    A detailed history can be found here:

    For these consecrations, as well as the "Patriotic consecrations" from 1979 down to the early 1990's (when the Chinese Novus Ordo was first introduced into both the Patriotic and Underground Church), the Tridentine Pontifical was used.

    I recall reading an article c. 1997by a Filipino Dominican missionary to China who complained that the Chinese Patriotic Church was very "Vatican I" in its theology and was still unenlightened by "Vatican II ecclesiology". That doesn't seem to indicate a body of bishops and clerics that didn't know the minimum necessary to ensure sacramental validity. (Perhaps things have changed in recent years, though...)

    It should be kept in mind that the Patriotic Church, despite its schismatic history, has not gone on to produce new doctrines, clung to the Latin traditional liturgical books until the early 1990's, while attempting since the 1990's to imitate trends in the rest of the Catholic Church.

  8. I saw -- and deleted -- a terribly ignorant remark that was made about China not being "salvageable" and how the Chinese Catholics should have resisted the government so they could have stayed Catholic -- as if a multitude of Chinese Catholics have not done exactly that! By all accounts, the number of underground Catholics in China is greater than the number of "Patriotic" or "official" Catholics, although the lines are rather blurred in many places, and many (if not most) foreign Catholics visiting or staying in China make no such distinctions. It should also be noted that there are underground Catholics who refuse to accept the authority of the "Patriotic" bishops, including those confirmed by Rome.

    We have no way of knowing how many Chinese Catholics have lost their lives for the Church in the 20th century, but there was definitely a large number of martyrs during the rule of Mao Zedong.

    The number of Chinese bishops and priests who endured torture and death at the hands of the Communists cannot as be tallied yet. Many simply disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances. However, I think that China may have given the Church more martyr-bishops than any other nation in the 20th century.

    God is faithful. He will not neglect to bless the Church in China in His own good time with an abundance of conversions and vocations. The blood of so many martyrs cannot have been shed in vain for that great nation.

  9. Anonymous7:05 PM

    @Anon 23:16

    Granted, the LCWR leadership is alarmingly deviant, but to call 90% of American nuns no longer Catholic strikes me as an unnecessary and egregious slur. When one enters into impossible judgement of others' souls, one strikes at his own soul's relationship to Almighty God.



Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!