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Cardinal prods China to answer Pope's letter on Church-state relations

Catholic World News - October 25, 2012

Chinese authorities have never responded to a 2007 letter in which Pope Benedict XVI commented on the problems of the Church in that country, the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization notes in his own reflections on Catholicism in China.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni—who became closely acquainted with Chinese Catholicism when he spent nearly a decade in Hong Kong at the Holy See’s Study Mission there—said that “as a whole, the Church in China was never schismatic.” However, he said, the situation was immensely complicated by the presence of the “underground” Church, steadfastly loyal to the Holy See, and the “official” Church, authorized by the Beijing regime. The distinctions were not always clear, he noted. “In fact,” he observed, “these subjects interacted, creating a multiplicity of relations, open and concealed, prudent and imprudent, violent and cautious.”

Because the “underground” Church looked to Rome for guidance, while the “official” Church looked to Beijing, a resolution of the difficulties required dialogue between the Vatican and Beijing, Cardinal Filoni said. In his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, Pope Benedict sought to advance that dialogue, while clearly stating the position of the Holy See regarding the need for the Catholic Church to be free from political controls. The cardinal explained:

In the context of the mission it has received from Christ, the Church in China calls for the freedom to complete its particular mission, without interference from civil authorities and with respect to the laws of the State and to the laws of truth, justice and collaboration.

The Pope’s letter, the cardinal says, does not express political opinions, and underlines the willingness of the Church to respect legitimate government authority. The Pope’s letter “remains a document of a predominantly religious nature and serves to clear the way for reconciliation,” he says. Regrettably, Cardinal Filoni concludes: “It is waiting for a response.”

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