National Catholic Register | Edward Pentin | March 26, 2020
The Holy See must reconsider pastoral guidelines it issued last year encouraging Chinese clergy to join the country’s official state-run church and urgently make its secret 2018 agreement with China public, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kuin has insisted.
In March 20 comments to the Register, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong said he finds it “incredible” that through the pastoral guidelines the Holy See issued on June 28 last year, the Holy See is pushing for unity “with the wrong church, with a schismatic church.”
He also added that the situation has now become so serious for the faithful in China that he is counseling them to retreat “to the catacombs,” as it is “useless to fight now.”
“If we fight, they will do even more [harm],” he said, and the faithful risk becoming “complete slaves” to the state-backed community.
The Vatican issued the pastoral guidance to clergy on civil registration in China last June 28 in response to requests from Chinese bishops for a response to a ruling regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s obligations on religious groups to register with the authorities.
The guidelines were aimed at finding a way to cooperate with the authorities while at the same time guaranteeing as much respect for Catholic teaching as allowed by the laws of the Chinese state.
It also was hoped to foster what the Vatican stresses is “unity” between the underground Church in full communion with Rome and which has long resisted the communist authorities, often at risk of imprisonment and death, and the official church, called the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is a national church separate from Rome. Its central authority lies not with the Holy See but with the Communist Party. However, the Patriotic Catholic Association has never been formally declared by the Vatican as schismatic.
The Vatican insisted in the June 2019 document that, “under the current conditions,” Catholic priests could resist in good conscience from registering as members of the Patriotic Catholic Association, as stipulated by the communist government, but reports have emerged of Chinese authorities nevertheless applying pressure on clergy to register.
The Vatican also portrayed the guidelines as part of an effort to normalize relations between the Church and the communist regime, claiming in the document that because today “all Chinese bishops are in communion with the Apostolic See,” it was “legitimate to expect a new approach on the part of everyone, also when addressing practical questions about the life of the Church.”