CHINA – VATICAN
New regulations ask Catholics to elect their bishops democratically and reThe former ordinary bishop, now reduced to auxiliary bishop at the request of Pope Francis, will not be able to celebrate the Chrism Mass. The Religious Affairs Office will not recognize him as a bishop unless he joins the Patriotic Association. All unofficial priests are required to register and support the “independent Church”. If they register they receive an award of 200 thousand yuan (26 thousand euros). The ambiguity of Msgr. Zhan Silu, who from formerly excommunicated, is now the ordinary bishop of the diocese.
by Bernardo Cervellera
Rome (AsiaNews) – Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin risks not being able to celebrate the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday because the Religious Affairs Office and the United Front do not recognize him as a bishop. Until a few months ago, Msgr. Guo (photo 1) was ordinary bishop of Mindong (Fujian), recognized by the Holy See, but not by the government.
Following the agreement between China and the Vatican and the lifting of the excommunication of the official bishop Vincenzo Zhan Silu (photo 2), at the request of Pope Francis he accepted to be demoted to auxiliary bishop to vacate the ordinary see for Msgr. Zhan.
However, the Chinese authorities continue not to recognize him as a bishop and label his ministry as “illegal”. In various dialogues with him, they have placed as a condition to recognize him as auxiliary bishop that he enrolls in the Patriotic Association (AP), the control body of the Catholic Church in China, which works for an “independent Church” (from the Holy See ). John, a faithful comment on AsiaNews: “In practice it is blackmail. If the bishop does not register with the PA, he cannot concelebrate with Msgr. Zhan Silu at the Chrism Mass and risks not exercising any ministry. After the China-Vatican agreement, everything turned upside down: the bishop who was previously unlawful [excommunicated] can now celebrate; what used to be the ordinary has now become even illegal! It’s something to laugh about, if it weren’t serious and painful! “.
In Pope Francis’ eyes the Sino-Vatican agreement was to be a step towards the reconciliation of the two branches of the Catholic Church in China, the official and the underground. In his Message to Chinese Catholics and the Universal Church, released a few days after the agreement was signed, the pontiff spoke of a process of reconciliation between official and unofficial Catholics, but did not say that it should be achieved by eliminating the underground community or with mandatory membership of the PA.
On the contrary, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Francis affirms that the phenomenon of clandestinity “does not fall within the normality of the life of the Church”, but also says – again with Benedict – that “history shows that pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith”: which is exactly the case with the so-called “independence ” of the Church, wanted by the PA.
But in many dioceses the PA and the Office for Religious Affairs continue to demand that all priests enroll in the PA and support the “independent Church”. The Vatican expressed a timid reservation in an interview with Card. Fernando Filoni given to the Osservatore Romano, stressing that PA membership, according to Chinese law, should be optional.
Instead, in the diocese of Mindong, the Religious Affairs Office is calling all the underground priests – who are the majority – one by one and demanding they join the PA, otherwise they will have to leave the parishes and not exercise their ministry.
The Diocese of Mindong has over 90 thousand Catholics. Of these, at least 80 thousand belonged to the underground Church, served by 57 priests, 200 nuns, 300 consecrated lay people and hundreds of lay catechists. There are 12 priests in the official community. These numbers are enough to help us understand that the aim of the Religious Affairs Office is to destroy the diocesan Church, removing the priests who do not want to bow. Moreover in order to encourage enrollment in the PA, the Religious Affairs Office offered some priests an award of up to 200,000 yuan (almost 27,000 euros). But so far no one has accepted.
According to information given to AsiaNews, the Office of Religious Affairs is requiring underground priests to sign a document. In it they ask the new ordinary bishop, Msgr. Zhan Silu, for their the priestly faculties, swearing obedience to him. Secondly, they swear to obey the laws of the State, enroll in state organizations and support the principle of an “independent” Church. In practice, rather than “reconciliation”, they are wiping out the (former) underground community, through strong handed interference in the life of the Church.
The position of Msgr. Zhan Silu is ambiguous. According to some faithful he has advised some priests to sign and join the PA. It must be said that he is national vice-president of the PA.
In early March, he was in Beijing as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCCP). Speaking to a journalist of the Sintao Daily (March 3) who asked him if he did not mind that the faithful are being forced to join the official community, leading to the disappearance of the underground Church, he declared that this is the only way “the Church can be united ”. On that occasion, Msgr. Zhan even said that underground Catholics do not become official because they have “reasons of personal interest”.