By Theresa Marie Moreau
First Published in The Remnant Newspaper, March 2007
Just how long need a letter be?
How about one from Pope Benedict XVI, addressed to more than 10 million underground Roman Catholics in China who have suffered arrest, torture, imprisonment, even death at the hands of the Communists for the last six decades for refusing to renounce the supremacy of his and his predecessors’ Papal authority?
Just how long should that one letter be?
The formal announcement of the impending missive followed a two-day conference, focusing on the “situation of the Catholic Church in China,” held at the Vatican Apostolic Palace on January 19 and 20. The Pope reportedly popped in for about 30 minutes during the morning on the second day.
Speculation now circulates through cyberspace that the final, good-to-go letter will be around 20 pages in length, a trimmed-down final version of a long-winded, rough draft about 50 pages that’s been going through various outlines, edits and re-writes over the past several years.
Expected around Easter, the time of resurrection, the epistle may, perhaps, signal a resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church in China, forced underground by the never-ending persecution at the hands and guns of Communists.
Then again, perhaps not.
If the write-up by the Holy See Press Office is any indication of what the letter is to include, it looks like more of the same lukewarm love and pompous indifference from the hierarchy to the underground Church and a kissing up to the regime in Beijing.
“From the multiplicity of the participants’ contributions, what emerged was the will to continue along the path of respectful and constructive dialogue with the governing authorities in order to overcome the misunderstandings of the past,” read the release.
The “governing authorities” the Vatican wrote about is none other than the single-party, theophobic power in China – the anti-West, anti-democratic, anti-religious freedom, anti-personal freedom, anti-papal Communists.
It’s no secret that registered members of the Party must be atheists.
“Communist Party members may not believe in religion, nor may they participate in religious activities. Patiently educate Party members who take part in religious activities. Help them to acquire a worldview, to draw clear boundaries between atheism and theism and to affirm their faith in Communism. For those who persist in their ways, encourage them to withdraw from the Party,” according to this excerpt from a “Circular from Party Central,” dated February 5, 1991.
The complete break between the two followed in 1951, when the Kremlin-backed revolutionaries kicked out apostolic nuncio Archbishop Antonio Riberi. That was followed by the hunting down, rounding up and arresting of clergy, religious and lay Catholics, which numbered around 3 million at that time.
Make no mistake. This practice continues to this day.
On July 15, 1957, the Three-Self Reform Movement was replaced by and integrated into the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, with which all Catholics were to register, so ordered by Tse-Tung Mao, Chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1945 to 1976. This tactic was an attempt to completely control the Church’s ideology and force allegiance to the regime, not the Vatican.
Since then, priests and bishops who have refused to register with the Patriotic Association but who offer Mass and the sacraments are said to be setting up illegal organizations and conducting criminal, counterrevolutionary activities, thus in violation of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.
Specifically, Article 28 decrees: “The state maintains public order and suppresses treasonable and other counterrevolutionary activities; it penalizes actions that endanger public security and disrupt the socialist economy and other criminal activities, and punishes and reforms criminals.”
To be patriotic in China means to be revolutionary. To be faithful to the Pope, regarded as an imperialist power, is considered a counterrevolutionary act.
Since the setup of the Patriotic Association, a growing divide has separated those who give in to the regime and those who refuse, thus creating two Churches in China.
First is the illegal, underground Roman Catholic Church. Its clergy and parishioners profess their allegiance to the unquestionable authority of the Pope. Those priests and bishops in the underground Church must offer Mass secretly – in fields, barnyards, kitchens, anywhere but a church. To escape detection, members of the clergy wear neither Roman shirts nor collars. Generally, they are poor, live day to day, hand to mouth, have no homes of their own, and rely on the generosity of the underground faithful.
Second is the legal, aboveground Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Its members of the clergy not only have access to the most beautiful churches, but they also wear the most glorious vestments, receive a nice income, benefits, and, generally, live a cushy life. They regard the Pope as a spiritual leader, but not as the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Following ordination, Patriotic priests and bishops must chant, “Duli ziji ban jiaohui!” “Independent running of the church!”
Neither trusts the other. For the underground, the Patriotic church is filled with those who surrendered to the Communists and those who readily inform on others for merit. For the aboveground, their rivals are traitors to the independent church and the revolution.
The reason for the existence of the Patriotic Association was laid out in Article 2 of the “Work Regulations for the Catholic Patriotic Association,” written a few years ago by the Communists.
“The purpose of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is: to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, to raise high the flag of love of country and love of the church, to unite all the clergy and Catholics to uphold the dignity of the law…to support the unification of the country, to unswervingly implement the principle of the independent administration of the church, to jointly manage church affairs in conjunction with church affairs organizations, to carry out a democratic running of the church, and to conscientiously promote the adaptation of the Catholic church to socialist society.”
Almost immediately, Pope Pius XII reacted in protest. On June 29, 1958, he signed his encyclical, Ad Apostolorum Principis. In it, the 82-year-old Pope, who would be dead before the end of the year, condemned the “consecrations” and encouraged the true Roman Catholics in China to stay strong, remain faithful and not to fall for the regime’s puppet priests.
“For under an appearance of patriotism, which in reality is just a fraud, this association aims primarily at making Catholics gradually embrace the tenets of atheistic materialism, by which God Himself is denied and religious principles are rejected…It is surely a matter for grief that while holy bishops noted for their zeal for souls are enduring so many trials, advantage is taken of their difficulties to establish false shepherds in their place so that the hierarchical order of the Church is overthrown and the authority of the Roman Pontiff is treacherously resisted.”
Thirty years later, another announcement was needed following the reopening of churches, after the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76), during which Red Guards, acting on the orders of Mao, destroyed any visible sign of religion and the West. With the new open policy, churches needed clergy. Most underground priests refused and could not be coerced, even under torture, so the Patriotic Association started grooming their own.
Confusion grew. Clarification needed.
On September 3, 1988, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, now 83 years old and president of the Pontifical Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses, issued to bishops worldwide Protocol 3314/88, an eight-point set of guidelines on China.
“A rather delicate point is the question of the liturgical celebrations. In fact all ‘communicatio in sacris’ is to be avoided,” Tomko wrote. “The ‘patriotic’ bishops and priests are not to be invited or even allowed to celebrate religious functions in public, either in the churches or in the oratories or the various religious institutes.”
In the accompanying seven-point “Directives on Some of the Problems of the Church in Continental China,” issued the same day, Tomko clarified matters further.
“History records in 1957 the constitution of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association whose expressed intent was to renounce to the fundamental bonds with the Roman Pontiff and the Holy See and to place the community of the Faithful under the direct control of the civic authority…Catholics cannot accept in conscience the principles of an association which demands the rejection of a fundamental element of their faith, namely the indispensable communion with the Roman Pontiff, visible head of the Church and of the College of Catholic Bishops which cannot exist without him as head.”
The January 2007 press release, however, announced something quite different: “It was noted with particular joy that today almost all of the bishops and priests are in communion with the Supreme Pontiff.” This serves to only add more confusion.
In 2004, the Rev. Msgr. Eugene M. Nugent attempted to clear up one very important issue when, on July 3, he released a set of guidelines on the Church in China. He made it unmistakably clear when he described the very public manner in which Patriotic “priests” who wish, can be reunited with the Pope and recognized as in communion with the Holy See.
“Those priests and deacons of the Patriotic Association seeking acceptance must be recognized by the loyal and legitimate priests as fervent priests or deacons in good standing. They ought to be those respected by the faithful.
“Before the acceptance, he must profess his obedience and respect to the legitimate bishop in front of two or more loyal priests. He must read the profession of faith, and promise never to speak or do anything damaging the reconciliation. He must also clearly declare that he opposes the Patriotic Association and its three autonomies principles.
“He must publicly reject the principles of the Patriotic Association.
“He must publicly declare that he no longer belongs to the Patriotic Association.
“He must declare that he will not have any further relationship with the Patriotic Association in the future, nor will he support it.
“He must declare that he obeys (Tomko’s) 8-Point Directive, and that he will not have any communicatio in sacris with any illegal bishops or religious belonging to the Patriotic Association.
“Finally, he must sign a document to prove his position. The original statement must be kept in the diocesan files while a duplicate is to be sent to the representative of the Holy Father.”
Nugent also noted: “The Patriotic Association has the characteristic of being in schism. It is the source of confusion and divisiveness.”
As defined by the Code of Canon Law, can. 751, “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”
They may be silenced, but the underground Church has found a voice to speak on their behalf.
That voice is Ming-Chuan “Joseph” Kung.
President of the Connecticut-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, 75-year-old Kung is an advocate for the Church in China, about which he knows much. He named the foundation in honor of his now-deceased uncle, Cardinal Pin-Mei “Ignatius” Kung, the bishop of Shanghai and apostolic administrator of Nanking and Soochow. In life, the cardinal stood as the symbol of the Roman Catholics in China and endured more than 32 years in prison for his faith and for his refusal to deny the authority of the Pope. He died on March 12, 2000, at the age of 98, in the United States, exiled from the land of his birth.
Because of the continuing stressful situation endured by the faithful in China and the apparent laissez-faire attitude by the Vatican in its apparent concessions to the Communists, on March 28, 2000, Kung addressed a 15-page open letter to Vatican officials.
At the top of the salutation, the first name to be addressed was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The current Pope, now 79, was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005.
“We write this letter because we do not understand many actions by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church towards the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. These actions appear to have been so one sided in favor of the Catholic Patriotic Association that the underground Roman Catholic Church, which has gone through five decades of severe persecutions in China in defense of the Magisterium, appears to have been greatly neglected by the Vatican. Inasmuch as we and a vast number of concerned Catholics in and out of China do not understand these actions.”
Kung also requested that the Chinese Underground Bishops’ Conference be officially recognized.
It never was.
And Kung never received a response to his letter.
The Chinese Underground Bishops’ Conference was formed when the underground bishops met in November 1989, in Shaanxi province. After this important meeting, three bishops were arrested, reportedly for founding an illegal organization. The underground bishops’ Conference is not to be confused with the Chinese Bishops’ Conference, established in 1980 by the Patriotic Association, then renamed in 1992, the China Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
In October 2005, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the 71-year-old Archbishop of Los Angeles, took a two-week “sabbatical” to China. He has admitted that he did not visit any clergy of the underground Church. He has also admitted that he did not ask for the release of any of those in custody.
Not only did Mahony visit Patriotic churches, but he publicly celebrated Mass – alongside a Patriotic “priest” – at St. Peter’s Church, a Patriotic church in Shanghai. Reportedly that act made him the first cardinal to offer mass publicly in Shanghai since the Communist takeover.
Then there is Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, referred to by the underground Church as the “devil incarnate” because of his callous treatment of the underground faithful.
Etchegaray, who was received by Beijing officials in 1981, was the first cardinal to ever celebrate Mass in public, in a Patriotic Association cathedral.
By the time the 84-year-old native of France and current vice dean of the College of Cardinals had his book published in 2005, “Verso i cristiani in Cina. Visti da una rana dal fondo di un pozzo,” (“Christians in China, Seen by a Frog at the Bottom of a Well”), he had already traveled to Communist China four times, always a well-entertained guest of Party officials, who even managed a display of fireworks to celebrate his birthday.
One of his visits followed the Vatican’s announcement of the October 1, 2000 canonization of the 120 Catholic Martyrs, of which there were 87 Chinese members of the laity and 33 missionaries, killed between 1814 and 1930.
October 1 also happens to be the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Etchegaray wrote, “On my return from Beijing, in an interview with Vatican Radio on September 25, I expressed as ‘greatly displeasing’ the coinciding of the canonization with the national holiday of the Chinese people which deeply wounded their sensitivities after all the humiliations they have suffered from the Western powers.”
He did not mention that the Communists have a habit of increasing roundups and arrests on the members of the underground Church during Catholic holy days, especially Christmas and Easter.
Instead, he wrote, “In China, the time of the great persecution has fortunately passed…There are not two Churches, one ‘official,’ open and led by the state, the other, outlawed and suppressed to an ‘illicit’ life. There is only one Church, strangely and painfully, with two faces, carrier of the same Catholic faith within its ‘official’ and ‘illicit’ breast.”
Even the Communists have admitted there are two Churches, as described in the February 1989, Document No. 3, “Stepping up Control Over the Catholic Church to Meet the New Situation.”
“Catholic underground forces must be dealt with by adopting methods to win over or isolate their adherents: We designate the underground as consisting of those bishops secretly consecrated by the Vatican and those priests that these bishops have in turn ordained as well as key leaders they control. Most of them believe in the Pope and do not agree with the independent and autonomous administration of the church.”
And despite Etchegaray’s extremely erroneous claim that the persecution has ended, it continues.
In the appendix of Etchegaray’s book, instead of including one of the autobiographies or biographies of the persecuted underground Roman Catholics in China (of which many are readily available), Etchegaray included the writings of Yue Pan, the 47-year-old former deputy chief editor of China Youth Daily (Communist propaganda mouthpiece) who was elected to the position of No. 1 deputy director at the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration. (It is well known that to get a good job in China, one must be a registered Communist.)
The second text in the appendix is an apology, made in 2001, from Pope John Paul II – to the people of China – for the wrongdoings of some members of the Roman Catholic Church upon the Chinese.
“History, however, reminds us of the unfortunate fact that the work of the members of the Church in China was not always without error, the bitter fruit of their personal limitations and of the limits of their actions…I feel deep sadness for these errors and limits of the past, and I regret that in many people these failings may have given the impression of a lack of respect and esteem for the Chinese people on part of the Catholic Church, making them feel that the Church was motivated by feelings of hostility toward China. For all of this, I ask the forgiveness and understanding of those who may have felt hurt in some way by such actions on the part of Christians. The Church must not be afraid of historical truth and she is ready – with deeply felt pain – to admit the responsibility of her children.”
And what was China’s reaction?
“China had no response. China doesn’t care about the Vatican’s apology,” said a member of the underground Church.
Perhaps, in the upcoming Easter epistle, the prodigal papacy will apologize to the underground Roman Catholics in China for not doing more to help them during their six decades of persecution.
The Pope need write only two words:
ENDNOTE: All Chinese names have been written in a manner to avoid confusion and to remain consistent with the English standard of writing proper names: given name first, family name last. In Chinese, names are traditionally written with family name first, given name last.
Theresa Marie Moreau can be reached at TMMoreau@yahoo.com.