Catholic World News

Hong Kong cardinal optimistic about accord between Vatican, Beijing

February 09, 2017

Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong has indicated that he thinks the Vatican can reach a satisfactory agreement with China on the appointment of bishops.

In an essay for the AsiaNews service, Cardinal Tong writes that control of episcopal appointments is the most critical issue in current talks between Rome and Beijing. He suggests that if an agreement on that question can be reached, other concerns about religious freedom can be resolved later.

Cardinal Tong expresses satisfaction with the report that an agreement would allow the Chinese regime to nominate several candidates for ordination of bishops, with the Vatican making the final choice:

If the pope has the final word about the worthiness and suitability of an episcopal candidate, the elections of local Churches and the recommendations of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China will simply be a way to express recommendations.

Critics of the proposed agreement—including Cardinal Tong’s predecessor in Hong Kong, the outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen—have observed that the system would give Beijing effective veto power over the selection of any bishop, and limit the Vatican’s selection to prelates who met the criteria of the Chinese government.

In his AsiaNews essay, Cardinal Tong discusses two other problems in the Vatican-Beijing talks: the role of the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and the status of bishops who have been recognized by the government but not the Vatican and vice versa.

Regarding the CPA, the Chinese cardinal acknowledges that Pope Benedict declared the group incompatible with Catholic doctrine, insofar as the CPA claims to exercise leadership of the Church in China. But Cardinal Tong argues that if the CPA changed its goals, becoming an organization “to encourage clergy and faithful to carry out social charities” and other civic projects, the tension could be resolved.

As for bishops who were ordained without Vatican approval—and are currently subject to excommunication—the cardinal writes that they would need to “show repentance” and accept the authority of the Vatican. Cardinal Tong offers a similar recommendation for those “underground” bishops who are not recognized by the government: that they should declare their support for China’s political system.

Cardinal Tong argues that if these problems could be addressed, an agreement between the Vatican and China would be welcome. He recognizes that the Church would still not enjoy full freedom, but reasons that complete religious freedom is not a realistic goal in China today. In an essay responding to the cardinal’s analysis, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of the AsiaNews service, writes that Cardinal Tong may be concentrating on “the appointment of bishops without worrying about the exercise of their function.” He observes:

The freedom to open schools, the return of seized property to the Church (though it is required by Chinese law), being able to spread the faith, all of these are secondary issues. Card. Tong calls these expressions of “complete freedom” which, “realistically” the church can do without, at least for now.

 
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