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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

China and the vindication of fidelity

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 05, 2006

Catholics throughout China "heaved a sigh of relief" after yesterday's condemnation by the Vatican of unapproved episcopal ordinations, according to an article posted by the Catholic AsiaNews service:

"This statement was necessary," a priest in Shaanxi province told AsiaNews. "These ordinations are illegal and a great obstacle to relations between China and the Vatican. But they are above all a factor of division with the Catholic Church. The Church finds itself back to a time, many years ago, when patriotism and loyalty to the Communist Party prevailed over ties to the Pope."

"If the Pope did not speak up, the official Church was in danger of being swallowed up lock, stock and barrel by the Patriotic Association (PA), changing the very nature of the Catholic Church," he said. "The true Church always obeys the Pope." And "if it is true that the PA has another 20 illegal ordinations planned, we can say goodbye to at least 30 years of the Catholic Church in China."

Pope Pius XII saw the incipient clash clearly in his 1954 encyclical Ad Sinarum Gentem ("To the People of China"):

As you well know, it will be entirely necessary for your Christian community, if it wishes to be part of the society divinely founded by our Redeemer, to be completely subject to the Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and be strictly united with him in regard to religious faith and morals. With these words -- and it is well to note them -- is embraced the whole life and work of the Church, and also its constitution, its government, its discipline. All of these things depend certainly on the will of Jesus Christ, Founder of the Church.

That's straightforward enough. Pius XII didn't shy from the problems that were to lead to the creation of the Patriotic Association, either:

Lastly, there are some among you who would wish that your Church would be completely independent, not only, as We have said, in regard to its government and finances, but also in regard to the teaching of Christian doctrine and sacred preaching, in which they try to claim "autonomy."

We do not at all deny that the manner of preaching and teaching ought to differ according to place and therefore ought to conform, when possible, to the nature and particular character of the Chinese people, as also to its ancient traditional customs. If this is properly done, certainly greater fruits will be gathered among you.

But -- and it is absurd merely to think of it -- by what right can men arbitrarily and diversely in different nations, interpret the gospel of Jesus Christ? ...

The holy pastors are not the inventors and the composers of this gospel, but only its authorized custodians and its divinely constituted heralds. Wherefore We Ourselves, and the Bishops together with Us, can and ought to repeat the words of Jesus Christ: "My teaching is not my own, but his who sent me."

Small wonder, when the limits of diplomatic evasion knock against the Gospel, it's the former that has to give. For the human and historical background to the confrontation, M.A. Thiessen's 2002 Crisis article "A Tale of Two Bishops" is worth re-reading.

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