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Thank you for continuing to cover China and the Vatican. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page on Friday February 2nd expressed concern that Pope Francis might break relations with Taiwan as part of a deal with China. Very worrying. Sheila A. Waters, Bronxville NY USA
There is one thing, I seem to remember that in Poland the Church had the same arrangement that (according to one account) they are making with China,that the Church proposed 3 candidates for Bishop and the State had the final choice. And if I remember rightly the state chose Karol Wojtyla thinking he would be the least problematical for them, and we all know how that turned out. I wish the Vatican hadn't made a deal with China, but we really don't know what will happen. We need to pray and trust in the Lord.
In response to Elizabeth's comment, the situation in China is complex. No person of goodwill would be opposed to negotiations between the PRC and the Holy See. However, the Chinese bishops' conference is ultimately controlled by the State and is therefore not truly independent of political interference. The State has also made it crystal clear that religions in China must conform its teachings to Chinese socialist doctrine. This is a patent absurdity. Therefore, to argue that the Church in China, i.e. through the Chinese episcopal conference, is free to elect its own bishops is a fig leaf to cover a fundamental surrender of a non-negotiable theological principle. The alternative as I have pointed out for years to anyone who would listen, and I am so glad George Wiegel has taken up this point (even though ideologically I don't normally tend to agree with him) that a concession on this issue violates the spirit and letter of Vatican II, and repudiates a century of reform to emancipate the Church from political interference. In reply to Anonymous, the Holy See's obsession for establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC is inexplicable to me. For example, diplomatic relations between the USA and the Holy See did not exist for the first two hundred years of the former's existence, and there is no evidence that the Church in the US was deprived or suffered in any way as a result of the lack of diplomatic representation. The Holy See has already downgraded its presence in ROC (the post of nuncio has been vacant since the 1970s, and if I'm not mistaken, the post of chargé d'affaires is now also unfilled). This seems like a prudent action to me as it demonstrates a sensitivity to the sovereignty issue between the PRC and the ROC (an internal affair of the Chinese nation) and is already a gracious concession on the part of the Holy See.
One concern is that it is very easy for Westerners to demand that the Chinese church live under persecution rather than compromise in a minor way with the Chinese regime. I know that Cardinal Zen is himself Chinese - the church in China is split over this issue.
Sorry but I hardly think this is compromising in a "minor" way.
Malcolm makes an important point when he says the Church in China is split on this issue (of an accord between the PRC and the Holy See on the appointment of bishops). The split is not simply between the official and underground churches. I know a Catholic intellectual from the official church who opposes a deal between the PRC and Holy See that concedes the appointment of bishops to an episcopate controlled by an atheist State. There are also clergy in Hong Kong who disagree with Cardinal Zen and favour an agreement between Church and State. However, conceding the appointment of bishops to the State is in direct violation of the spirit and letter of Vatican II. This is not a minor concession. What's more, there is a lot of chatter from liberal theologians in the media promoting an agreement as part of the indigenisation of Catholicism in China. What these commentators fail to grasp is that what constitutes Chineseness is strongly contested amongst intellectuals in China today. The arguments are not just between the Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but within the Mainland itself. What does it mean to be Chinese today? This impacts on the question of what exactly is a Chinese Catholic Church? Cardinal Zen himself is in favour of an indigenised Catholic Church and theology (even the great Karl Adam anticipated such an eventuality in 'The Spirit of Catholicism'), but until there is agreement of what constitutes Chineseness amongst people in China themselves, it isn't going to happen. The 'Chinese culture' promoted by the communist government is but one of many competing narratives within China, and in private it is ridiculed, especially among urban young people.
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