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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  • Posted by: - May. 09, 2006 2:10 PM ET USA

    "When the Iron Curtain fell over Czechoslovakia, thanks to a courageous and innovative underground Roman Catholic Bishop who ordained married males and a few females, the Catholic Church thrived." Huh? Those "ordinations" would be illicit, illegal, and invalid. Nice try.

  • Posted by: ladybird - May. 08, 2006 1:26 PM ET USA

    These appointments are tit-for-tat retaliation for BXVI appointment of HK Cardinal Zen; a truly courageous shepherd who has made sure both Beijing & the Exec/Legis civil servants in HK (mostly devout Catholics) are under no illusion as to where his fidelity - and theirs - ought to lie. Beijing was emboldened by their warm welcome by Washington's Catholic Gov in an obscene display at the home of the richest man in the world - probably the largest contributor to the Seattle Archdiocese.

  • Posted by: - May. 06, 2006 3:11 PM ET USA

    If the Jesuits think the Catholic Church thrived in Japan or is thriving in the Czech Republic (one of the most atheistic societies in the world) it's no wonder so many of them are so far off the mark here in the U.S.

  • Posted by: - May. 06, 2006 1:20 PM ET USA

    As for the Roman Catholics who suffer persecution in China to this day - as they have done for more than 50 years - there can be no doubt that they suffer for our sins and for the sins of the bishop in Czechoslovakia. To pretend that they would be better off if THEY went along with such outlandish and invalid ordinations is shocking since that is the very command of the Chinese communist government.

  • Posted by: - May. 06, 2006 6:37 AM ET USA

    For 400 years Japan was without access to Rome, yet thanks to the Jesuit missionaries, the underground Roman Catholic Church thrived. When the Iron Curtain fell over Czechoslovakia, thanks to a courageous and innovative underground Roman Catholic Bishop who ordained married males and a few females, the Catholic Church thrived. And thanks to Cardinal József Mindszenty, who was imprisoned by both the Nazis and the Communists, and was drugged into submission for a false confession. . . AMDG

  • Posted by: - May. 05, 2006 5:24 PM ET USA

    And let's not forget Pope Pius XI's encyclical on atheistic communism. "See to it that the faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived. Communism is intrinsically wrong and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever. Those who permit themselves to be deceived into lending their aid towards the triumph of Communism in their own country will be the first to fall victim to their own error."

  • Posted by: Charles134 - May. 05, 2006 1:52 PM ET USA

    Who cares about some problems in the Church in China today? We've been assured by our betters that if we just keep buying cheap Chinese goods at WalMart, the Chinese will stop persecuting their own. The answer to all this is, just buy more stuff. How convenient, as that's what we're good at! Charge!

  • Posted by: - May. 05, 2006 10:03 AM ET USA

    gic: Pius’ statement can’t be interpreted as applying to the SSPX. The SSPX doesn’t claim “autonomy” from Rome, hasn’t rejected de fide teachings, and hasn’t subjected itself to secular control. The true heroes in this whole affair are the faithful members of the underground Church in China, and the true villains are the clerics and laity who, either out of stupidity or fear, allow themselves to be corrupted by the CPA. BXVI must act NOW to formally excommunicate the bums, or all will be lost.

  • Posted by: - May. 05, 2006 10:00 AM ET USA

    This just doesn't apply to China. It also applies to advocates of AmChurch and its relatives throughout the world. For the vast majority of advocates, autonomy means freedom from the Truth, not the freedom to preach the Truth.

  • Posted by: - May. 05, 2006 6:24 AM ET USA

    I think they will ordain more. I also think that all Christian communities, such as the Jesuits, Fransiscans, SSPS etc, should heed the words of Pius XII concerning the need to be COMPLETLEY SUBJECT to the Supreme Pontiff and to be STRICTLY UNITED WITH HIM. Also pay attention to the paragraph regardin some who would wish that "your church would be completely independent...also in regard to the teaching of Christian doctrine and sacred preaching..." this speaks (pre VAT II) to the SSPX!