Chinese bishops have broken the taboo about rarely talking about Sino-Vatican relations by backing a proposed deal on bishop appointments.
They said the agreement is developing in a good direction and expressed support for President Xi Jinping, saying their citizenship takes priority over religion and beliefs.
The bishops gave their views during the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) held recently.
The issue of whether the Vatican or Beijing should control bishop appointments in China has aroused widespread concern among Catholics around the world.
Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, attended the NPC and told the media that China has always been sincere about improving Sino-Vatican relations and has made great efforts to do so.
He described the communication channels between the two parties as effective and smooth. He also pointed out that China will continue to uphold the principle of consistent adherence and make efforts to improve Sino-Vatican relations.
Wang did not disclose whether the two sides would sign an agreement on bishop appointments in March.
But he said the expectation of bishops and other prelates is the same. They hope they will unite their love of the country with that of religion, not only for healthy religious development but also for social harmony.
Bishop Peter Fang Jianping of Tangshan, an NPC member, said he hoped Sino-Vatican relations would have a good result this year, and he was confident the two parties could reach an agreement on appointment of bishops.
He pointed out that if mainland bishops could obtain legal status from the church, that could effectively promote Sino-Vatican relations and the development of the China Church.
Bishop Fang said the progress and specific contents of the negotiations are not very clear, but he believed that China and the Vatican have been working hard for years to reach an agreement, and now no obstacles are between the two parties in the negotiations.
President Xi proposed sinicization of religion in order to apply religion to the development of China, adapting to national and social conditions and to think about how to make religions more accessible to Chinese people, he said.
He also said church members should certainly support Xi “because we, as citizens of the country, should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs.”
When asked about the priorities of leaders and religions, Bishop Fang answered that they are giving back to God what is God’s, and to the country what is the country’s.
As a CPPCC member, excommunicated Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin of Leshan told the media that if diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican were established, it would have a good impact on China’s international influence and implementation of religious policies while allowing the church to conduct its work more normally on the mainland.
Excommunicated Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong, interviewed by Sing Tao Daily on March 10, said Sino-Vatican relations have made a big breakthrough. “There are no obstacles if everyone just thinks of the benefit of the church for the sake of peace.”
It is rumored that Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin of Mindong underground church promised to step aside to make way for Bishop Zhan, who was ordained illicitly, and Bishop Zhan will also be recognized by the Holy See.
When asked how the underground church should be managed in the future, he said the church relies on joint management and it would be necessary for church members, priests and nuns to unite to be able to do well.
“If [church management] is arbitrary, no one can manage it well,” he said, adding that complying with national religious laws and regulations is a must and “managing the church should be in accordance with the law.”
Bishop Fang Xingyao, chairman of the Patriotic Association and approved by both China and the Vatican, said he would examine the negotiations to assess the balance between loving the country and loving the church.
Bishop Shen Bin of Haimen, who is a CPPCC member and vice-chairman of the Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference in China, said the issue was sensitive.