Researcher Remarks 

Bishops Make the Headlines

     Commentary by Michael J. Sloboda, M.M.


     On Thursday, September 6, 2007, the China Daily devoted a lot of space to Catholics in China, specifically to Catholic bishops.

     An article on p. 1, “Bishop ordination to be speeded up,” mentions that 40 of the 97 dioceses in mainland China lack a bishop, while 30 of the current bishops are age 80 or older. Doing the math, this implies a need for 70 priests to be ordained bishops in the next several years.

     A secondary issue is that Beijing counts 97 dioceses, while the Vatican yearbook still lists two dozen more, based on the pre-1949 boundary lines. The recent letter of the Holy Father to Chinese Catholics says we can sit down and discuss this sometime – it is not a major obstacle.

     However, if China first appoints and then ordains dozens and dozens of bishops to fill the vacant sees, whether or not the Vatican approves the candidates, that could cause major problems at a later date. These, too, could probably be resolved.

     The most ominous paragraph is a quote from Liu Bainian, the vice-president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), about future bishops, “While Chinese Catholics want to select those with good religious knowledge and love toward the country and the people, the Vatican wants those who oppose the Communist Party.”

     On the contrary, in section 4 of his letter, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “…the Catholic Church which is in China does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the State…” Some people in the Beijing still see a basic, unchanged and unchangeable antagonism between the Vatican and China. This attitude makes dialog difficult.

     At different times in the history of the Catholic Church, bishops were appointed in different ways. True, and in earlier centuries things were done differently in China for reasons that made perfectly good sense at the time. The Catholic Church follows the current (1983) Code of Canon Law, just as the PRC follows its current Constitution. If someone from one side does not like a certain regulation from the other side, he will not get very far by complaining. It's time for dialog.

     In another place, the CCPA quotes Mt. 22:21, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.” The problem remains, who decides what belongs to whom? Caesar? But then Acts 5:29 says, “We must obey God rather than men.” Again, it's time for dialogue.  

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