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Excerpts from the Underground Bishops' Pastoral Letter

by Bishops of China

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    In this excerpt from their pastoral letter, the underground bishops of China explain how the members of the "Official Church" who have formed the Chinese Bishops' College and the Chinese Catholic Religious Affairs Commission have no real authority because they have severed themselves from the Pope.
  • Larger Work:
    The Catholic World Report
  • Publisher & Date:
    The Catholic World Report, April 1995

The Chinese National Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, in commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the mission of Blessed John of Monte Corvino, first Archbishop of Beijing, to all priests, religious, and faithful laity of China

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the love of God our Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

There has been a long history of evangelization in China. Since our Lord's ascension and his command to the apostles to proclaim the good news of salvation to all nations, St. Thomas the apostle traveled at least as far as India; some further research has shown that he also reached China.

Chinese history refers to Archbishop Corvino as the pioneer of the western missionary activities in China. On this 700th anniversary of Archbishop Corvino's mission in China, we must commemorate him. The time, place, and format of this commemoration are not important. Rather, the focus is to model our lives on his activities with others, and his proclamation of the Gospel over thousands of miles, oblivious of hardship and dangers to his own life and faithful to the spirit of Jesus Christ. We have in him a model of his fidelity to the Holy See and of his obedience and faithfulness to the Holy Father's commission.

In a letter to the future Archbishop Corvino in 1307, Pope Clement V commended him: "We know from reliable sources that for many years, you have possessed great missionary zeal.... Therefore we now hereby bestow on you a special authority. After you are ordained a bishop, you have our authority to ordain other bishops, priests, deacons, and to commission religious in the Yuen Kingdom (China), together with the authority to govern them in the same manner as we govern the Church in the West. We also hereby bestow the same special power to the successor of the Archbishop of Han Ba Li (Beijing). This special authority, however, is based on one condition: obedience and submission to the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff; at the same time, acceptance of the archbishop's pallium."

We can learn many important lessons, be inspired, and benefit from this papal letter. First, we know that Archbishop Corvino was obedient to his superior. Second, we learn that the special power to ordain bishops was not begun in recent times; this practice in China dates back 700 years. More importantly, ordained bishops must obey and submit to the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff, because obedience to the pope as the vicar of Christ is the fundamental requisite or the sine qua non of the bishop's own authority. Therefore it is important that we revisit this essential command and teaching of the pope which applies even to the present time.

Unfortunately, due to the interference of sources outside the Church, today's Catholic Church in China is divided. One part is recognized by the government, and this is termed the "Official Church." Some persons in the "Official Church" have traveled further along the road of division. In 1957 they established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. In 1980 they established the Chinese Bishops' College and the Chinese Catholic Religious Affairs Commission. In September 1992, they met in Beijing and opened the Fifth National Congress of the Catholic Representatives.

The faithful should know that once a bishop is ordained, he has the simultaneous duties to sanctify, teach, and administer the Church. The faithful must also know that without communion with the Roman pontiff, who is the head of the universal Church, and without communion with the bishops of the universal Church, the duties of the bishop cannot be carried out.

Church administrators must be bishops. However, the Chinese Catholic Bishops' College is accountable to the National Congress of Catholic Representatives. The authority of the National Congress of Catholic Representatives is higher than the Chinese Catholic Bishops' College. Who gives such authority to the National Congress? Christ never so taught. None of the Catholic theologians ever so taught. The history of the Catholic Church never so taught. The "authority" of the National Congress must be an unprecedented, great discovery of our country's "wise men."

We, the bishops, as members of the universal Catholic Church, do solemnly declare that the Chinese Catholic Bishops' College and those churches which are led by that College have become a new church, not the same as the Orthodox Church, nor the same as the Protestant Church, and definitely not the same as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. No member of the clergy of the universal Church is permitted to be in communion with them.

It is most lamentable and unfortunate to be separated from the Church. We must pray often for these separated brothers and sisters so that the merciful Lord will grant them the grace to repent. May they sail smoothly on the bark of mother Church with Peter at its helm, and return home to the universal Church ruled by our sovereign pontiff.

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