Catholic World News

Tensions in China's Catholic Church: an overview

March 25, 2011

Recent efforts by the Chinese regime to control the Catholic Church have put any prospects for diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing on the back burner, reports Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of the AsiaNews service and an expert on the Church in China.

Following the 2007 letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the Chinese Church, Catholics in China saw substantial progress toward the Pope’s goal of reconciliation between the “underground” and “official” branches of the Church, Father Cervellera writes. But the Beijing regime has countered powerfully, arranging the illicit appointment of new bishops and the selection of new leaders for the government-backed “Patriotic Catholic Association.” The net result, the AsiaNew director notes, is that “a body composed of bishops, is being led by a person not in communion with the Pope, while in the other case, a bishop in communion with the Pope is placed in charge of a body contrary to the Catholic faith.”

The outcome of these developments, Father Cervellera says, is a major setback for efforts to establish formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Beijing government. Vatican officials speak instead of a “Vietnam model,” in which informal agreements take the place of diplomatic ties. There is some irony in that approach, since in Vietnam, some Catholics fear that the government is working to the imitate the Chinese approach with the establishment of a “patriotic” Catholic institution loyal to the government.

Meanwhile for the Church in China, the challenge of maintaining unity between the “underground” Church loyal to the Holy See and the “official” Church recognized by the government is redoubled.


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  • Posted by: Defender - Mar. 26, 2011 10:39 PM ET USA

    Things have not really changed in China since Mao, they've only become more adept at saying one thing and doing another. The major difference in relations is that Pius XII was not afraid to call the Chinese communist government to task in the 1950's, now no one wants to offend, though by the very nature of this kind of government, it offends all.