Catholic News Service
Chinese Father Liu Yong Wang distributes Communion to Catholics in a makeshift chapel in the village of Bai Gu Tun, located about 43 miles southeast of Beijing.
Catholic News Service
Chinese Father Liu Yong Wang distributes Communion to Catholics in a makeshift chapel in the village of Bai Gu Tun, located about 43 miles southeast of Beijing.
VATICAN CITY — Over the past five years, relations between the government of China and the Catholic Church unfortunately have been marked by "misunderstandings, accusations" and new "stumbling blocks" to religious freedom, said the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, congregation prefect, said, "Control over persons and institutions has been honed and sessions of indoctrination and pressure are being turned to with ever greater ease."

In an article published in late October in Tripod, a publication of the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, the cardinal, who spent nine years in Hong Kong as a Vatican diplomat monitoring the situation of the church in China, issued a call for dialogue with China's communist government.

He asked for the establishment of a high-level, bilateral commission of China and the Holy See, similar to the China-Taiwan commissions that continue to discuss issues of importance even though relations between the two are strained politically.

The Catholic community in China, he said, does not enjoy the freedom it should and it cannot move toward unity and reconciliation as long as the government appoints bishops unacceptable to the Holy See, pressures other bishops to participate in illicit ordinations and detains bishops who insist on maintaining their ties with the Vatican.

The situation also is exacerbated by misunderstandings between what Cardinal Filoni described as the "two currents" of the Catholic Church in China: one basically underground because it "did not accept compromises and political control," and the other existing openly, but accepting government control for what he termed "existential reasons," by which he meant its very existence.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, urged the two communities to recognize each other as Catholic and move toward reconciliation.

The pope's letter, Cardinal Filoni said, recognized that "as a whole, the church in China was never schismatic," even though some Catholics accepted government control in order to ensure the survival of the church.

China's estimated 10 million to 12 million Catholics are divided between officially registered communities supervised by the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and so-called "underground" communities that recognize only the authority of the Vatican.

Pope Benedict's 2007 letter, Cardinal Filoni said, urged a process of reconciliation among Catholics "to eliminate prejudices, interference, divisions and connivances, hatred and ambiguity" between the two communities.

The pope's hoped-for reconciliation "experienced difficulties" because of "external pressures on the church itself," presumably by the government, "but also because of misunderstandings between the two 'currents,'" the cardinal said. "Decades of separation had dug furrows and built walls, so that deep internal wounds inflicted on the church are present even today."

The healing of the Chinese Catholic community cannot proceed while the government continues to act in ways that further test and divide Catholics in the country, the cardinal said.

The Vatican insists, he said, on the Catholic Church being able to be true to its identity and its teachings in China. For that to occur, the bishops must be united among themselves and with the pope; pastors must be holy and suitable; the community must be truly "catholic" or universal by being in communion structurally and in matters of faith with the pope and other Catholics around the world; and the church must be apostolic, which is ensured through the proper succession of bishops recognized by the pope.

Citing three specific "stumbling blocks," Cardinal Filoni said the Chinese government and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association have increased the divisions in the past few years.

First, he said, the government-organized national assembly of Catholic representatives in 2010 "sharpened the control of the state over the church," pressured underground clergy to join the patriotic association, and began exercising greater control over internal church matters. As an example, the cardinal cited the appointment of a government official as vice rector of the seminary in Shijiazhuang.

Second, he said, "rigorous control over the appointment of bishops has led to the choice of controversial candidates, who were both morally and pastorally unacceptable."

Third, the cardinal said, the ordinations of new bishops -- both those acceptable to the Vatican and those the Vatican considered illicit -- were marred by the participation of "illegitimate bishops" as co-consecrators, "creating a dramatic crisis of conscience" for all participants.

The situation of Catholics in China "remains serious," Cardinal Filoni said. "Some bishops and priests have been segregated and deprived of their liberties, as the case of (Auxiliary) Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai has clearly demonstrated."

The bishop, 45, quit the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association at his ordination July 7. Since then, he has been in "retreat" at the Sheshan Seminary, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

However, a mainland bishop who is recognized by both the Vatican and Beijing told UCA News he does not think Cardinal Filoni's invitation will yield results because the government "doesn't care about the church or the Vatican. They never want to have sincere dialogue."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: "The government will not make any response because its top priority is to maintain stability on the eve of the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and ensure smooth transition of the state leadership."

UCA News also reported that, as the Nov. 8 opening of the congress neared, Chinese officials were tightening security across the country as well as in cyberspace. The congress was expected to see a once-in-a-decade power transition.