I WAS PLEASED to see an article on China by my confrere, Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, CICM, published in CN Nov 22 (Opinion, page 21). But I was totally flabbergasted when I saw the heading, "Chinese bishop who joined Patriotic Church deserves our respect".
Patriotic Church… How did that incorrect and misleading term find its way in CN, I wondered, of all things in the heading above an article emphasising the exact opposite: the basic unity of the Catholic Church in China.
Looking at it positively – like St. Augustine did when he dared to say about original sin, O happy fault, considering it led to the Redeemer – this unfortunate misnomer is an opportunity to state and further clarify a crucial truth, namely:
There is no Patriotic Church in China and never was.
What exists is the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), a governmental body that unjustifiably claims to have control over all Church matters.
What exists in China is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, be it in two distinct communities:
• “official” or “open”, which submits to CCPA control, often because they feel forced, while at the same time (barring a few exceptions) fully submitting to the authority of the Holy Father.
• “unofficial” or “underground” (although in some places they are operating quite in the open), which rejects and tries hard to dodge any and all government control.
This truth is not as widely understood by Catholics in Singapore as I had thought. It is not the first time I have heard people talk about a Patriotic Church in China.
What we need to know
As early as 2001, Scheut Missions shared some useful information for Singaporeans travelling to China and spread it in a simple booklet entitled “Ambassadors for Christ in China”. What Father Frans De Ridder wrote then retains all its importance:
• In China all bishops and priests are validly ordained or consecrated, though some were ordained without permission of the Pope, creating problems on the level of Church Law. Yet this does not create problems on the level of Faith. You can receive Holy Communion. It is also good to know that up to 80 percent of the so-called Open Church bishops have been legitimised by the Holy Father.
• In China there are not two Churches. There is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. Admittedly, there is a deep wound in the Church, a division. As foreigners, tourists and missionaries, we should be sensitive in this area. Our role as Ambassadors for Christ is to help in the healing process. Hence, do not judge or take sides. Listen; try to understand.
• On the surface there are two poles – Open Church and Underground Church. People nowadays prefer the word Open Church. This attitude should be respected. Avoid using words like Patriotic Church or Official Church. Quite a substantial group in the Church do not want to pledge any allegiance to the government body supervising the Church. Hence they choose to work underground. But the situation is not always clear-cut. In some places there is good understanding, friendship and even cooperation between bishops and priests who might have been labelled as belonging to either side. In other places there exists hostility between both sides. Still in others, some bishops and priests have converted from Underground Church to Open Church and vice versa. However, all these different groups pray for the Holy Father and have a deep respect for his ministry as head of the Catholic Church.
Apparently, the message of the booklet needs to be repeated and spread more widely, which is the golden opportunity provided by the “happy fault”.
Need for an
Father Jeroom wrote the following in March 2008:
“Today shepherds look for the adequate vocabulary and avoid condemning any of the two communities in order to encourage Catholics to move towards the creation of one community. In fact I do believe that the large majority of Catholics in China feel that they have always belonged to the one Church and have never liked any of the above-mentioned labels. But the reality that the Church was divided in two communities prompted them and also observers abroad to start using these labels so as to make clear about whom they were speaking. The question is now how to get rid of the labels and how to grow into a new reality of one Church. This mentality must grow in our minds, in our way of speaking and especially in our way of celebrating and living our faith.” n
For this and other articles by Father Jeroom, visit www.scheutmissions.org, “Updates from China”, and to receive occasional updates by Father Jeroom on the situation of the Catholic Church in China, send an email titled “China update” to email@example.com
By Father Paul Staes, CICM