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Catholicism in China Today

October 11, 2018

Amongst the too many shocking scandals, the question of China naturally escaped the eyes of many. They are not to be blamed as what is happening in the Church is perhaps the worst we have seen – on the moral forum. On doctrinal side, as we all know, the destruction is nearing its completion. Is there anything left untouched? Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize of the SSPX, in his latest contribution to Courier de Rome (n° 613 de Septembre 2018) presents the situation of the Church in China. He convincingly proves that the shift is not only a historical disaster but also theologically damaging. What follows here is an adapted version of his article.

On 22ndSeptember 2018, the Holy See issued a Communiqué ‘concerning the signing of a Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of Bishops’. On the following Wednesday (26thSeptember, 2018), the Holy Father sent a ‘Message to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church’. In it he writes: “I have determined to grant reconciliation to the remaining seven “official” bishops ordained without papal mandate and, having lifted every relevant canonical sanction, to re-admit them to full ecclesial communion”.

The reaction to it was immediate. Cardinal Zen, Archbishop Emeritus of Hongkong was very vocal about it.  In a message, he writes: “They’re giving the flock into the mouths of the wolves. It’s an incredible betrayal” … “The consequences will be tragic and long lasting, not only for the Church in China but for the whole Church because it damages its credibility” (Reuters News Agency)

So, what really happened?

China become communist country in 1949. Since then it has been virulently anti-Catholic, because of the Catholics loyalty towards the Pope. Article 36 (of the constitution) explicitly states, that all religions must be in state control.  And in 1957 –the government set up a ‘Catholic Patriotic Association of China – which in practice amounts to a national schismatic church, whose bishops are not only chosen by the government, but also are consecrated in complete independence from Rome. The Patriotic Association must even officially disavow the Pope.

After the Communists gained control in China and started their insidious attacks against the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII reacted immediately. On three occasions, he addressed an encyclical to the persecuted Catholics to encourage them in their faith & their loyalty to the Holy See.

  • Apostolic Letter, Cupimus Imprimis, January 18, 1952, (AAS 1952, 153-158) – the Pope explains that the Church cannot be considered ‘foreign’ in any country. She is ‘supra-national’.
  • Encyclical, Ad Sinarum gentem, October 7, 1954, (AAS 1955, 5-14) - the Pope showed why Catholics, though second to none in true love for their country, could not accept the ‘patriotic association’ as intended by the Communists: that would lead to a schismatic national church.
  • In the third encyclical, Pope Pius XII (Encyclical Ad Apostolorum principis, June 29, 1958, AAS 1958, 601) denounced the ‘new and more insidious attempt’ at separating the church from Rome.

He condemns that this so called ‘Patriotic Association’ is meant to bring Catholics gradually to accept the principles of atheistic materialism and the spread suspicious and accusations against the Holy See. He strongly denounced the methods of compulsion used – ‘causes of indoctrination’, obligatory presence at the ‘patriotic meetings, intimidation etc. Not content to protest against this unjust persecution, Pius XII reacts vigorously against their attack on the unity of Church. They make a distinction between its doctrinal authority in matters of faith and its disciplinary decisions; the latter, said to be often inspired by political motives, need not be obeyed.  This “spirit of rebellion” shows itself at present in the insistent propaganda which claims for Catholics the right to elect their own bishops – “asserting that such elections are indispensable in order to provide for the good of souls  with all possible speed and to be acceptable to the civil authorities”. Indeed, they elected many candidates and conferred Episcopal consecration upon them. This is a “very grave event”, completely at variance with the constitution of the society instituted by Jesus Christ. It belongs to the Roman Pontiff to nominate the bishops; and a bishop not nominated or confirmed by the Holy See has no power of teaching or of jurisdiction, since bishops receive their jurisdiction through the Roman Pontiff.  They may possess the power of Order (if their consecration is valid), but its exercise, even though valid, is gravely illicit and sacrilegious.

This was the official stand of the church until the letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Chinese Catholics (27, May 2007). Things started to drift away. In the above-mentioned letter, he did reiterate at first the Catholic doctrine.  The so called “principles of independence and autonomy and democratic administration of the Church is irreconcilable with the ancient symbols of faith, profess that the Church is One Holy, a Catholic and Apostolic”. And also what they actually do (consecration without Roman mandate) is “serious violation of the Canonical discipline”.

However, the problem is that Pope Benedict XVI relies on the false principles of the new Ecclesiology and collegiality, where the stress is placed on the Episcopal conferences much more than on the Primacy of Pope (cf. #7 of the letter).

Here we start to drift and it slides even more on the pastoral level, where the Pope allows the Chinese faithful “that they, may for the sake of their spiritual good turn also to those who are not in communion with the Pope” (#10). This is serious and unprecedented. It is not just about validly receiving the sacraments, but a question of remaining faithful to the Holy Church while remaining attached to its visible head, the bishop of Rome. It is to be remembered that Pope Pius XII called their acts ‘seriously unlawful, sinister and sacrilegious’. To participate in their liturgy would be to commit the serious offence of ‘communicatio in sacris’.

These words of Pope Benedict XVI is not just weak, but vitiated in its substance by the false principles of Vatican II. What ‘spiritual food’ can be obtained if they allow themselves to be fed by those who up hold communist principles? Aren’t those principles, according to Divini Redemptoris, ‘intrinsically evil’.  No wonder this agreement shocked Cardinal Zen!

Of course, Pope Francis does have power to proclaim an amnesty, to lift excommunications and to reinstate the Schismatics into the communion of the Church.  In other words, de jure, it is within the power of Pope Francis to do what he did. But, de facto, was it prudential thing to do? The Catholics who sacrificed many things expected the Pope to denounce Communism and help those stray schismatics to return to the fold. But what Pope Francis did was to give-in in the face of persecution. This is how Cardinal Zen perceives it. And he is right and laudable for the stand he takes. True peace and true fraternity are impossible as long as the influence of Communism is exercised in defiance of the demands of the social reign of Christ the King.

In fine, let us conclude with what Pope Pius XII concluded, “following the ardent dictates of his heart” in his encyclical. “To Our mind come those torments which rend asunder your bodies or your minds, particularly those which the most valiant witnesses of Christ are enduring, among whose number are several of Our Venerable Brethren in the episcopate. Daily at the altar We offer to the Divine Redeemer the trials of all of them, together with the prayers and sufferings of the whole Church.  He sees clearly your anguish and your torments. He particularly finds acceptable the grief of soul and the tears which many of you, bishops and priests, religious and laymen, pour forth in secret when they behold the efforts of those who are striving to subvert the Christians among you. These tears, these bodily pains and tortures, the blood of the martyrs of past and present - all will bring it about that, through the powerful intervention of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, Queen of China, the Church in your native land will at long last regain its strength and in a calmer age, happier days will shine upon it”. (Ad Apostolorum Principis)