The latest communiqué of the Vatican’s Commission on the Church in China has mostly fallen flat with the faithful on the mainland, although some see hopeful signs.
An “open” community bishop said the most important point in the document is the “clear and definite reiteration of the Church principle” against the Chengde illicit episcopal ordination and the Eighth National Congress of Catholic Representatives.
“Hopefully, it will prevent recurrence of similar incidents in future,” said the Vatican-approved prelate who did not want to be named.
But he said the point that “excommunication is not automatically incurred” was ambiguous and showed that the Holy See “has not assessed and distinguished to what extent the bishops in that ordination were under pressure or taking part voluntarily.”
Father John, an open priest in northern China, said the Holy See over the past decade had been too accommodating to the open Church community while demanding the underground community observe discipline.
The underground community used to enjoy special faculties from the Holy See to perform sacraments, including ordaining bishops before getting a papal mandate. However, irregularities later appeared, he explained.
“Now it’s time to let the open community know the Church canon is not just on paper.
“If the Vatican could unify its policies and maintain checks and balances between the two communities, it would have an advantageous position in negotiation with Beijing,” he said.
Father John Baptist Luo Wen of Mindong diocese’s underground community said the statement has nothing new.
“It’s meaningless to advocate dialogue with the civil authorities if the Holy See does not review and remedy the faults of its China policy,” said the priest, an active blogger.
“Helped by instructions based on the wrong mentality of the Vatican, opportunists in the China Church have exhausted almost all the chips of the Vatican to bargain with the Chinese government.”
Layman Paul and many other underground faithful said they felt depressed when reading the communiqué. If there were no punishment for the illicit ordination there would be severe consequences that risk the unity and communion of the Church, he said.
“We defy hardship and pain but fear we cannot get the Holy See’s understanding and support.
“Those who are in the Catholic Patriotic Association are happy that they can continue to ordain their own bishops, whom they believe will be recognized by the Holy See eventually,” Paul said.
There were feelings of despair among priests in both communities contacted by ucanews.com. One, using the name Panshi Peter, left a message on the CathNews China website – a service of UCAN – saying that the 11-point document destroyed their last hope in the Vatican.
“I think that’s enough. Let’s stop here. I hope the Holy See will never bother us anymore. We will hold responsibility for our own faith. Goodbye!” he wrote.
However some still clung to their hopes.
Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in northeastern China called for prayer.
“It is understandable that the Church will make mistakes as it is a community of humans, but God has everything in his hand. I still have hope,” the underground prelate said.
In Beijing, Liu Yuanlong, vice-chairperson of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association said the communiqué did not show that the Holy See had a full and objective understanding on the China Church.
“We need more time to reach genuine communication and a normal relationship,” said the layman.
Foreseeing more episcopal ordinations this year, Liu said he hoped the Holy See could approve the candidates for the sake of evangelization and Church development in China.