ROME: The underground Church, China’s unsanctioned Catholic community, is a “pawn in the political game, as well as a thorn,” an “unstable element,” and a “hot potato” for the Holy See, said a Chinese lay Catholic.
These are views after reports that the Vatican had asked some underground bishops in communion with the Holy See to resign in favour of government-sanctioned but unlawful and excommunicated bishops who are under the tight control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Faced with the Vatican’s decision in favour of unlawful bishops, Catholics expressed sadness, sorrow, and anger. Certain themes recur. The comments we publish come from official and underground priests as well as lay people and nuns. As requested, their names have been withheld.
1. The Vatican calls on legitimate bishops to resign and recognise “illegitimate bishops” in order to consolidate the legitimacy of the Council of Bishops. If this decision does not bring all underground bishops into a legitimate position in the Chinese Church authority, the Vatican will lose the right to speak to the Church in China. The most negative aspect is the fact that the Vatican will be useful to the Chinese government only to legitimise seven “illegitimate bishops”. After that, the Chinese Church will be totally Sinicised and the promises of the Chinese government to the Vatican will be delayed indefinitely until the underground Church is fully integrated and completely subordinated to politics.
2. I don’t know what to say. I am shocked, sad, disappointed, but I still have hope since the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Holy Church. I remember the word of the Lord: The “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Over time, the Church has seen so many trials, and the Lord has always chosen people to enlighten.
3. I think that all the decisions of the Holy See have been well planned and thought out, but I am very sad about some decisions, even if I should be obedient. Abraham, when he had to sacrifice his son, surely was very sad, but obedience to God overcame his personal views. How can we reject the decision of the Holy See because of our feelings? Apart from the Holy Spirit, obedience is important in the history of the Church. Otherwise, schism in the Church grows further. Let us pray: May the Lord not leave us; let us be obedient, with faith, before the Lord.
4. Asking Bishop Zhuang to resign is like abandoning a person who is loyal to you; to demote Bishop Guo is incredible news. As a Chinese saying goes: Cut the feet to fit the shoes. It is an inappropriate decision. China’s underground Church is a loyal Church. For tens of years, it has stayed away from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. It has suffered a lot to remain faithful to the Lord and the Holy Father. Today, many underground churches have become a pawn in the political game, as well as a thorn in the side of China-Vatican relations. China’s underground Church is indeed in an odd situation because China views it as an unstable element in society whilst the Holy See considers it a “hot potato.”
We must not forget obedience to the Lord. The Church of Rome is a Universal Church; no one can use the name of the Church to destroy the people of the Lord. The Pope also said that we must be vigilant so that the faith is not colonised by ideology. The Church is the foundation of truth; it is our Mother and Teacher; it must guarantee justice and peace, promote religious freedom, protect human rights, and help people in need. The Church cannot submit to temporal power by marginalising its people.
We have always hoped for the normalisation of Sino-Vatican diplomatic relations, but if this entails the suppression of the loyalist Church, then there will be more and more people like Dong Guanhua (a priest who appointed himself bishop in the underground Church). Alternatively, as Cardinal Zen put it, “we’ll just go back home to farm.” We hope that the Roman Curia will take seriously what we say and be cautious in the negotiations with our politicians.
5. In this case, for political reasons, we are giving up the faith. The result of reconciliation is dereliction or, rather, the desertion of the underground Church. The Vatican loses along all the line. Too bad, because, in the future, it will no longer have the right to speak: Loving one’s country will be more important than loving one’s religion.