Catholic World News

Chinese Catholics puzzled by Bishop Ma's reversal, leery of Vatican stand

June 30, 2016

Chinese Catholics continue to question the reversal of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai, who has indicated his support for the government-backed Catholic Patriotic Association, after serving four years of house arrest for publically renouncing his membership in the same group.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, has questioned whether Bishop Ma's reversal can be taken seriously. Other Chinese Church officials have said that he made his new statement under pressure. Father Gianni Criveller of the Pontifical Missions observes: "I believe that the question of whether Bishop Ma has written the article or not is misleading, because a person kept under house arrest, under pressure and multiple interrogations and under 'political' lessons, cannot be considered to be free, not even when he writes with his own hand."

Bishop Ma also may have concluded that he should endorse the Patriotic Association because he might then be allowed to exercise his pastoral leadership in the Shanghai diocese. Chinese Catholic leaders must frequently weigh the pitfalls of cooperating with the regime against the pastoral needs of the faithful. 

The Vatican has encouraged Chinese bishops to pursue unity within the Church, and avoid exacerbating divisions between those Catholics who accept the "official" Church and those loyal to the "underground" Church loyal to Rome. However, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Church cannot accept the role of the Patriotic Association, and Pope Francis has not altered that policy.

The Vatican press office has said that no Vatican officials were involved with Bishop Ma's decision to reverse his stand-- and in fact that the Vatican only learned of the reversal from news reports. Nevertheless, Chinese Catholics remain concerned that the bishop's shocking statement was influenced by quiet talks between Rome and Beijing. Cardinal Zen went so far as to suggest that in the Vatican strikes an agreement with the Chinese regime, loyal Catholics should not criticize the Pope's decision, but "at the end of the day, one's conscience is the ultimate criterion for judging behavior."

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